These are the 10 greatest Jazz as selected by the WristRock staff for their overall guitar skill level, jazz tradition,
influence on other artists, arpeggio repertoire, solo capabilities and number of appearances of their work in consensus
Top 100 Jazz Album Lists.
Guitar Maniacs list does not include crossover artists, "smooth jazz" artists, or players that
have appeared on other Top 10 Lists (so go to
Top 10 Country Guitarists if you're looking for Les Paul!).
John Leslie "Wes" Montgomery (1923–1968) was born in Indianapolis,
Indiana into a musical family. His brothers, Monk (string bass and electric
bass) and Buddy (vibraphone and piano), were also jazz performers. The
brothers released a number of albums together as the Montgomery
Brothers.They recorded three jazz albums as the
Montgomery Brothers.
Wes learned the six string guitar at 19 by listening to
Charlie Christian
albums. Although he couldn't read music, he learned complex melodies
by ear. He had played, however, a four string tenor guitar since the age
of 12. He was known for his ability to play Christian's solos note for note
and was hired by Lionel Hampton for this ability.This was  his first gig, as
guitarist for jazz vibraphonist,
Lionel Hampton, in 1948. (This video is a
surprise if you expected to see Lionel on his vibes!)
His intricate phrasing and octave-style was unique voicing the
melody line in two registers as Wes demonstrates in this version
of  "
I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" from Full House
(1962). He took the
use of octaves and chord melodies to a
greater level than any other guitarist, before or since. Instead of
using a guitar pick, he plucked the strings with the fleshy part of
his thumb, using downstrokes for single notes and a combination
of upstrokes and downstrokes for chords and octaves. This
technique enabled him to get a mellow, expressive tone from his
guitar. Wes had a corn on his thumb, which gave his sound that
point. He would get one sound for the soft parts, and poignant
notes he'd srtum with the corn. Plus, Wes' thumb was
double-jointed. He could bend it all the way back to touch his
wrist  How does Wes
pick with only his thumb?
His first album, Far Wes, was recorded in New York with Riverside Records as The Wes Montgomery Trio in 1959.
However, it was the 1960 album
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery that yielded the Montgomery Carlos
Jobim's, "
Insensatez" (How Insensitive). His live album, Full House, recorded at Tsubo, in Berkeley, California in 1962
was the final release before Riverside  went bankrupt in 1963, featured a small group, usually a trio,
quartet, or a
quintet, playing a mix of uptempo jazz tunes and demure ballads. They also usually included his Indianapolis-based
organist friend,
Melvin Rhyne.  
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After extensive tours of Europe which resulted in 1965 compilation allbums, Live in Europe and the Belgium Rounder,
he recorded
A Day in the Life  the best-selling jazz album of 1967. One of the featured cuts was The Association's
"
Windy". It became one of the all-time best-selling jazz albums. You never heard this version from The Beatles.. no
disrespect intended to John, Paul George or Ringo. "
Goin' Out of My Head" was the Top 40 hit single from the album.
Wes also did a tune called "
Yesterdays" ... but not The Beatles version. He must have liked The Beatles though. Wes
eventually joined forces with Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith, Jimmy Raney, and Barney Kessell to put guitar on the map as a
bebop / post-bop instrument.
Now 403 Video Links
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WES  MONTGOMERY
March 6, 1923 – June 15, 1968
  • "I learned to play listening to Wes Montgomery's 'Smokin' at the Half Note'." --- Pat Methaney
Yes, They SaiD It...
  • "To me, there have been only three real innovators on the guitar—Wes Montgomery,
    Charlie Christian, and Django Reinhardt," --- Joe Pass
  • " It was an honor that he called me as his second guitarist for a session." --- Kenny Burrell
He influenced so many guitarists:: Frank Vignola, Pat Martino, George Benson, Russell Malone, Emily Remler,
(her Wes influence doesn't kick in until the 5 minute mark on video but
what a video),Pat Metheny (rare video with
Pete Townsend of The Who and Herbie Hancock) and
Kenny Burrell just to mention several. Stevie Ray Vaughan,
Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, David Becker, Joe Diorio, Steve Lukather and Pat Martino have pointed
to him numerous times as a great influence. Lee Ritenour, who recorded the 1992 album Wes Bound named after
him, cites him as his most notable influence; he also named his son Wesley.
Unfortunately, Wes Montgomery's career was cut short by a fatal heart attack in 1968.
His legacy is extensive and impressive. He was nominated for 2 Grammy Awards for
Bumpin', (1965), received a Grammy for Goin' Out of My Head as Best Instrumental
Jazz Performance by Large Group or Soloist with Large Group (1966), Grammy
nominations for "
Eleanor Rigby", "Willow Weep for Me" from A Day in the Life) and the
album that was released just a month before his death,
Down Here on the Ground
(1968). Other accolades include
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery,
earning Down Beat magazine's
New Star award in 1960 and winning the Down Beat
Critic's Poll award for best Jazz guitarist a record
six times in 1960, '61, '62,'63, '66, and
1967. (By the way, if you want to learn to play this last cut, "
In Your Own Sweet Way"
like Wes, here's a video tab that indicates the intricacy of Wes' compositions
The combined stress of touring and being away from family brought him
back home to Indianaopolis in the earl 50's. To support his family of eight,
Wes toiled at a first shift factory job by day and performed in local clubs at
night until 2AM. Wes did albums with
Hampton, Freddie Hubbard and his
brothers in obscurity until being discovered playing his home club, The
Missile Room, by
Cannonball Adderley in 1959.
Wes moved to Verve Records in 1964 as his label of choice for the next two
years. The Verve Years featured more of an orchestra and/or brass-heavy jazz
product.
Movin' Wes, the string-oriented Bumpin' and Tequila, or a mixture of
strings and brass as in
California Dreaming and  Goin' Out of My Head  (1965),
earning his first Grammy. Later in 1965, his collaboration with  Wynton Kelly's
Trio,
Smokin' at the Half Note,  remains one of the Top 10 jazz albums. It paired
Miles Davis's rhythm section of
Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb with Wes. Of
course Paul and Jimmy's claim to fame with Miles was playing on the  jazz epic,
Kind of Blue album with John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Cannonball Adderly. This
blockbuster was followed by a pair of albums he did with organ virtuoso, Jimmy
Smith:
The Dynamic Duo and Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (1966).
Fusion, Wes'  first session with a string ensemble, was a collaboration with vibraphonist, Milt Jackson from the Modern
Jazz Quartet .The album's producer,
Orrin Keepnews, reported that Jackson forced the collaborative effort with Wes as
contractual blackmail for signing a solo recording deal with Riverside.
1948
Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra
1949
Lionel Hampton     
                       
Hamp's Small Combos 1947-1950
                       Hamp's Golden Favorites Voll. 8: 1949-1950  
                       Colossal Vibes And Sticks  
                       Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra 1944-1950
                       Milan Jazz
Sonny Parker      The Complete 1948-1953
Various Artists     The Best Of Blues Shouters
 

1950
Lionel Hampton      Lionel Hampton Vol. 9: 1950  
                         Moonglow  
Gene Morris           
King Trotter b/w Rocking With G.H.
                         Carlena's Blues b/w Smooth Evening  
1955
Variuous Artists     Almost Forgotten-Various Artists: Instrumentalists  

1957
The Montgomery Brothers And Five Others  

1958
Wes Montgomery   Montgomeryland  
                         
Wes, Buddy And Monk Montgomery
Various Artists       The Mastersounds: Kismet  
                         
Perfect Percussion  

1959
Wes Montgomery  Original Jazz Classics
Jon Hendricks        A Good Git-Together  

1960
Nat Adderley          Work Song  
Wes Montgomery  
The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery  
                         The Montgomery Brothers  
                         Movin' Along
                        The Alternative Wes Montgomery  
                        
The Complete Riverside Recordings  
                         Encores
 
Harold Land          
West Coast Blues!
Cannonball Adderly   Cannonball Adderley And The Poll-Winners  
               
         The Cannonball Adderley Collection, Vol. 4
1961
Montgomery Bros.  Groove Yard  
                         
The Montgomery Brothers In Canada
                         George Shearing And The Montgomery Brothers  
Wes Montgomery  
So Much Guitar!  
                         
Live At Jorgies Jazz Club  
                         
Live At Jorgies And More  
                         Dangerous  
with Milt Jackson    Bags Meets Wes!  
with Milt Jackson    
Wes And Friends  

1962
Wes Montgomery   Full House  

1963
Wes Montgomery   Fusion!  
                         
Pretty Blue
                         Boss Guitar  
                         
Portrait Of Wes  
                         
Yesterdays  
                         Guitar On The Go  
1964
Various Artists       The Navy Swings  
Wes Montgomery  
Movin' Wes  

1965
Wes Montgomery  Kings Of The Guitar  
                        Stretching Out Live In '65  
                        
Bumpin'  
                 
       Just Walkin'  
                        
Jazz 625  (Wes Montgomery Quartet)
                        
Solitude  
                        
Wes Montgomery: Live In Paris
                        Belgium 1965 Rounder  
                        
Wes Montgomery And Clark Terry  
                        Body And Soul  
                 
       Wes Montgomery:Live In Europe  
                     
   Smokin' At The Half Note  (with Wynton Kelly)
                        
Willow Weep For Me  
                        
The Small Group Recordings  
                  
      Smokin' At The Half Note, Vol. 2  
                        
Smokin' Guitar  
                        
Other Sessions At The Half Note
                        Goin' Out Of My Head  
Various Artists      
 Americans In Europe, Vol. 2  

1966
Wes Montgomery  Tequila  
                         
California Dreaming  
                  
       Jazz Spectrum, Vol. 8  
with Jimmy Smith   
The Dynamic Duo: Jimmy And Wes  
                  
       Further Adventures Of Jimmy Smith And Wes Montgomery  
Leonard Feather   
Encyclopedia Of Jazz, Vol. 1  

1967
Wes Montgomery  A Day In The Life  
                        
Down Here On The Ground  
                     
   Wes Montgomery - Classics, Vol. 22  
1968
Wes Montgomery  Road Song  
STUDIO, LIVE  and COMPILATION  ALBUMS
WES'  DISCOGRAPHY
R.I.P, WES
Wes Montgomery Pictures, Images and Photos
Some of Wes' more memorable collaborations include "Blue Monk"  and "Last of the Wine" with Ronnie Scott and
Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, his work with
Harold Mabern (piano), double bass virtuoso, Arthur Harper (bass), and this
excerpt of the medley with
Lisa Minelli on the TV show, Hollywood Palace, from 1967 ,
March 6, 1923 – June 15, 1968
National Public Radio put out an excellent documentary on Wes called The Life and Music Of Wes Montgomery,
narrated by jazz singer, Nancy Wilson. Enjoy that NPR Series here in four parts: Part 1, 2, 3, and 4. For more on Wes,
visit his
official website.