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.
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.
Lionel Hampton And His Orchestra
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
Sonny Parker The Complete 1948-1953
Various Artists The Best Of Blues Shouters
Lionel Hampton Lionel Hampton Vol. 9: 1950
Gene Morris King Trotter b/w Rocking With G.H.
Carlena's Blues b/w Smooth Evening
Variuous Artists Almost Forgotten-Various Artists: Instrumentalists
The Montgomery Brothers And Five Others
Wes Montgomery Montgomeryland
Wes, Buddy And Monk Montgomery
Various Artists The Mastersounds: Kismet
Wes Montgomery Original Jazz Classics
Jon Hendricks A Good Git-Together
Nat Adderley Work Song
Wes Montgomery The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery
The Montgomery Brothers
The Alternative Wes Montgomery
The Complete Riverside Recordings
Harold Land West Coast Blues!
Cannonball Adderly Cannonball Adderley And The Poll-Winners
The Cannonball Adderley Collection, Vol. 4
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
with Milt Jackson Bags Meets Wes!
with Milt Jackson Wes And Friends
Wes Montgomery Full House
Wes Montgomery Fusion!
Portrait Of Wes
Guitar On The Go
Various Artists The Navy Swings
Wes Montgomery Movin' Wes
Wes Montgomery Kings Of The Guitar
Stretching Out Live In '65
Jazz 625 (Wes Montgomery Quartet)
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
Other Sessions At The Half Note
Goin' Out Of My Head
Various Artists Americans In Europe, Vol. 2
Wes Montgomery Tequila
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
Wes Montgomery A Day In The Life
Down Here On The Ground
Wes Montgomery - Classics, Vol. 22
Wes Montgomery Road Song
STUDIO, LIVE and COMPILATION ALBUMS
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.