About Wes Montgomery
Legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s musical life didn’t follow the traditional pattern of many gifted musicians. Never picking up a guitar until he was nearly 20, Wes Montgomery was a quick learner, and within five years was touring and recording with jazz icon vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. To learn more about the intriguing career of Montgomery, read the Wikipedia Wes Montgomery bio.
During his abbreviated 43 year stay on the planet, Montgomery nevertheless managed to permanently alter the course of not only jazz guitar, but the role the guitar would play in many different styles of music.
The most immediately obvious of Wes Montgomery’s influence has been the widespread use of octaves by guitarists worldwide, a technique rarely used until popularized by Wes in his early recordings. You can hear octave playing in everything from the music of Jimi Hendrix, to the musak that wafts through office buildings worldwide, and it all owes a debt to Wes Montgomery. For more information, have a look at this tutorial on the study of octaves, which provides detailed instruction on playing octaves on the guitar.
Eschewing a pick, in favor of his thumb, Montgomery was able to achieve a fuller, more meaty sound. This darkness of that sound, the thick, woolly texture that octaves give, all played on the signature Wes Montgomery L-5, gave Montgomery a sound that made other guitarists drool. In response to the continued enthusiasm by guitarists over Montgomery’s sound, Gibson has re-issued the L4 – CES, a guitar Wes himself played late in his career.
But, it wasn’t only Montgomery’s sound that guitarists were interested in. Wes Montgomery was a very blues-y, lyrical guitarist who made everything he played sound effortless. Many students of jazz guitar still spend hours poring over every facet of Montgomery solos. There are several online resources for studying the improvisations of Wes Montgomery. Adam Good has posted a transcription of Montgomeryland Funk,. You can also find Montgomery’s Road Song solo, with accompanying analysis for further insight. There is also a tab transcription of Wes Montgomery playing Round Midnight in the OLGA archives. If that’s not enough, here is a full list of online Wes Montgomery transcriptions, all available for free download. For those interested in further studying the music of Wes Montgomery, you’ll find much to learn in Wes Montgomery – Jazz Guitar Artistry, a book containing 14 Montgomery transcriptions.
For those new to Montgomery’s music, the excellent Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery comes highly recommended (site features audio clips) as one of the early essential guitar albums. If you haven’t checked him out before, be sure to now, as Wes Montgomery is an integral part of the history of the guitar.