Bags Meets Wes: MILT JACKSON and WES MONTGOMERY
Milt Jackson (vib) Wes Montgomery (g) Wynton Kelly (p) Sam Jones (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs)
New York; December 18, and 19, 1961
“S.K.J.” (5:14) (Milt Jackson)
Stablemates (5:39) (Benny Golson)
Stairway to the Stars (3:34) (Malneck –Signorelli – Parish)
Blue Roz (4:43) (Wes Montgomery)
Sam Sack (6:03) (Milt Jackson)
Jingles (6:56) (Wes Montgomery)
Delilah (6:07) (Victor Young)
One evening late in 1961, Milt Jackson was talking about two albums he was planning to record. About one of them he was fairly matter-of-fact, discussing it with the attitude of a craftsman who intended to turn in a good day’s work for a good day’s pay. “But the other one,” he added, with the smile of astonished delight he reserves for special friends and special occasions, “the other one is with Wes Montgomery!”
Bags Meets Wes here for the first time on records, but Bags has known Wes for several years. About two years ago, Jackson was briefly hospitalized, and through astute use of the telephone he turned his sickroom into a sort of International Wes Montgomery Fan Club Headquarters. If Montgomery owes the designation “amazing jazz guitar” and the several pools he has won to anything in addition to his own talent, the credit belongs to Milt Jackson.
Praise from Jackson does not come easily. He is known as one of the most outspoken musicians on the scene. Many men, with an eye to where their next job may be coming from or who might be their next sidemen, have standard answer to any question about any player: “Yeah, he plays nice.” Not so Jackson. He has definite and unshakable opinions about what he likes in jazz and what he does not, and anyone is likely to find himself measured against the Jackson standard of values. Milt, of course, deals from a position of strength as unquestionably the finest jazz vibraharpist in the world, but he would probably be just as vocal if he had come in third in last year’s New Star Poll. And his sponsorship of Montgomery carries added weight because Jackson, as he has infrequently taken the time to prove, plays the guitar himself, with a moving, affecting simplicity.
Simplicity could stand as Jackson’s credo, even though he was closely associated with Dizzy Gillespie in creating some of the most complex, inventive jazz that has eve been played. And for the last decade, of curse, Milt has been a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet – perhaps the chief member, depending on your own view of music. It scarcely needs reiterating that the MJQ is the most highly complex, formal small group ever to play jazz, and Jackson has made it no secret that all of the MJQ’s experiments are not to his private taste. Quite possibly, it is just that difference of opinion between Jackson and the MJQ’s musical director John Lewis which provide the musical tensions that make the Quartet the endlessly fascinating unit it is. It also provides fro a sort of “Double Life of Milt Jackson”, so that a record such as this, where formal considerations are largely absent, almost inevitably sounds like Bags on holiday.
Jackson’s major area of musical concern is, and has always been, the blues. He is one of the superb blues players in jazz of any period or instrument. When one considers the number of blues solos he must have played in his career, it is amazing that each new solo should have the high degree of freshness and inventiveness that it does. The blues form the basis of the mutual respect and affection between Milt and Wes Montgomery. Both men are largely self-taught, an despite their prodigious techniques, tend to regard feeling as being of prime importance. Not surprisingly, then, both are deeply concerned with the blues, and three of the seven tracks on this set are in that form. S.K.J., the opener, is by Jackson, the title being his wife’s initials. Blue Roz, equally fundamental in feeling, is by Montgomery. (It is named for a valued member of the Riverside staff.) Sam Suck is another instance of Jackson’s seemingly inexhaustible flow of blues melodies, apparently as easily written as played. In this case, however, he had a little help. As its title may cryptically suggest, the melody is based on a phrase played by bassist Sam Jones in a solo on Sack o’ Woe, recorded in his most accustomed setting as a member of Cannonball Adderley’s group. The phrase must have stuck quite firmly in Jackson’s mind, for this kind of composing is quite rare, except when arrangers undertake to orchestrate entire solos, usually by deceased giants. Jones, by the way, was unfamiliar with his own phrase when Milt played it for him, and had to be told its origin. (Comparison-minded listeners will find the original on “The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at the Lighthouse” – Riverside RLP 344 and Stereo 9344.)
Mention of Jones leads us to the rhythm section, all-important in a venture like this, in which the players are bound together by mutual esteem and empathy rather than by constant association. The three members of this section – Sam, Wynton Kelly, and Philly Joe Jones – have appeared in so many combinations on so many recordings that it is almost pointless to g into the matter again, except to say in general that all are in fine form, in particular that Philly Joe is his usual incredible self, and above all that it is quite interesting to see how Jackson responds to a rhythm section that pushes harder than the one he is accustomed to.
The remainder of the material in the album is quite varied. Benny Golson’s Stable Mates is now well on its way to becoming a jazz standard. The first recording of this unusual melody was by the original version of the Miles Davis Quintet, on which Philly Joe was the drummer. Jingles is a Wes Montgomery composition that appeared on his first Riverside album. The laws that govern the acceptance of a melody into the jazz repertoire are extremely personal, and I will frankly admit that I was never able to figure out why Clifford Brown and Max Roach took Delilah to their hearts. Here, the matter is solved by playing it as close to blues as possible.
But for me, the gem of all these pieces is Stairway to the Stars. Milt is also one of the few true ballad players in jazz, probably because he is a true romantic, and his ballad mastery is richly demonstrated here. Wes has a lovely moving short bit, reminiscent of the late Django Reinhardt. Together they create, if you will, the best of all possible mood music.
This is not, by the way, Jackson’s first appearance on a Riverside album – he recorded one with Cannonball Adderley in 1958 that, as Milt says, “had a lot of humor to it” – and it is not to be his last. He has interesting projects in mind for the future, but our present concern is with this album. Speaking of it, producer Orrin Keepnews said: “We wanted to record a superior blowing session, and I think we did.” I could call that remark an understatement, but I won’t. I prefer to point out that, even though the term “blowing session” has of late tended to become one of opprobrium, most of the favorite records in anyone’s jazz collections fit Keepnews’ category precisely. Like most superior blowing sessions, which depend on the intangibles of personal interaction and talent, it is more profitably listened to than discussed. So don’t let me detain you any longer …
Jackson can also be heard on Riverside on –
Things Are Getting Better: Cannonball Adderley, with Milt Jackson (RLP 286; Stereo 1128)
Albums by Wes include –
Wes Montgomery Trio (RLP 310; Stereo 1156)
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (RLP 320; Stereo 1169)
Movin’ Along (RLP 342; Stereo 9342)
So Much Guitar! (RLP 382; Stereo 9382)
Groove Yard: The Montgomery Brothers (RLP 362; Stereo 9362)
(This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 940744) and Monaural (RLP 407) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios. (Mastering by NEAL CEPPOS)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York