Nothing is left to be said about the legendary Wes Montgomery. He single-handedly (and humbly) defined the role of the guitar as a jazz and bebop instrument. And nobody else (before, during or after) had such an impact on the guitar scene. Montgomery brought forward his incredible octave technique, his right thumb plucking style, and much, much more in the music of the 1960's. Simply put, Wes probably was the greatest jazz guitarist to ever have lived.
Now we got this off our chests, let's talk business: if you like Wes' sound but are still unsure of where to start listening, here's the top-5 list of Montgomery best solos, according to yours truly. Even if our man did not record a lot in his fertile years (he died at age 45 and was only on the radar for 10 years or so), it's easy to be intimidated by the quantity of available Wes tracks. "Uh-oh, just received the Complete Riverside Recordings as a birthday present!" Twelve CDs box set, I know ...
Moreover, let me add this before we get started: it's no secret that most of Wes' best playing was not done in the studio. His best solos appear on live tapes, and you'll notice that three out of five solos below are from concerts.
#5 Boss Guitar: Days of Wine and Roses
Wes recorded quite a lot in an organ trio format, consisting of guitar, drums and organ. So it's only natural that at least one of his greatest solos comes from such a context. The choice was difficult, but I zeroed-in on Days of Wine for #5 on this list. The chord melody is also brilliant, relaxed and right-on-the-money. Wes also uses plenty of double-timed lines on this solo, since the tempo is quite slow.
#4 Live in Belgium 1965: Yesterdays
Another favorite of mine. A little back story: I first heard some of the "Live in Belgium 1965" takes on this "Legends of Jazz Guitar" Volume 1 DVD. Yup, the one where Wes does a goofy smile on the cover. Not to disrespect other jazz guitar masters, but when watching this DVD, I would just skip over whatever was not Wes Montgomery!
So this "Live in Belgium 1965" came to my attention a little later and I simply fell in love with the way Wes starts out his solo on Yesterdays. The band is providing the guitar with a great time feel, and Montgomery lets his bluesy line soar!
#3 Smokin' at the Half Note: If You Could See Me Now
This Wes Montgomery album has been qualified of "perfect" by none other that virtuoso jazz musician Pat Metheny. If You Could See Me Now is Metheny's favorite on this recording. Enough said!
#2 The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery: Your Own Sweet Way
Wes is taking the classic Dave Brubeck song to a different place on this timeless track. This take differs both from the Brubeck and Miles Davis recordings ... and it's a good thing! Wes Montgomery uses plenty of double-time lines to tastefully outline the harmony and spice up the turnarounds with colored (altered) notes.
#1 Smokin' at the Half Note: No Blues
Floored. I was simply floored for the entire lapse of time when I first heard this tune. It's the first track on the recording and my first listen was probably at the time I was 17 or 18 years old. What a shock!
After about 12 bars of what we can consider the head of the piece, the guitar solo launches full swing. A great departure for a jazz guitar album! On this track we hear Wes taking it slow by building from single-note, then octaves, then full-blown block chords. The Wynton Kelly trio provides a nice harmonic and rhythmic carpet for the master to lay down his tasty improvisation.
I didn't want this to be a video post, but nevertheless, I'll let you go with an embed of "7 interesting facts about Wes" featuring the beginning of Wes' solo on No Blues playing in the background, here:
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Steve Raegele is a guitarist based in Montreal. He’s played many styles of music (except Bluegrass) in dozens of cities across 4 continents. He enjoys playing jazz, rock, R&B and improvising creative music. As a sideman Steve has played the music of Thom Gossage, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Nicole Lizée, Christine Jensen, and many others. His trio record, Last Century, is available from Songlines.