BBR jazz guitar week ends at the summit with John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery. Wes started out on 4 string tenor guitar and when he switched to the 6 string version he leapt into jazz history. Lionel Hampton first made Wes popular by exposing him to his big audience. Wes’ hero was Charlie Christian but even he couldn’t match Wes’ octave-spanning solos or chordal melodies. Wes simply invented a language on guitar or took the existing language places where it never went before or since. From the excellent albums he made with his brothers Monk and Buddy as the Montgomery Brothers, to his time with Hamp to his Don Sebesky-arranged pop gems for A&M/CTI, Wes’ recorded output is unmatched in the annals of jazz guitar. Wes was so well-loved there was an inevitable backlash by jazz purists at his commercial success. But, the illogic of that backlash only served to highlight his genius. To wit this example of idiocy from AllMusic
Much to either the delight or chagrin of urban or traditional jazz fans, the music changed, and Montgomery was in the middle, though his delightful playing was essentially unchanged. … In many real and important ways, this is the beginning of the end for Montgomery as a jazz artist, and the inception of bachelor pad lounge/mood music that only lasted for a brief time. … It does fall in that category of recordings where the musicians chose to produce, rather than create their personal brand of jazz, and is at the very least an historical footnote.
“chose to produce” vs “create”? That’s a knock? We thinks not. Milt Jackson once insisted he get Wes for his recordings before signing with the Riverside label. ‘Trane tried unsuccessfully to draft him into his band. Guitarists as diverse as George Benson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, David Becker, Joe Diorio, Steve Lukather, Larry Coryell, Randy Napoleon, and Pat Martino have pointed to him numerous times as a great influence. His distinctive way of playing with the side of his thumb was the key to his sound, on which we could expound forever but know this; Wes Montgomery-who died of a heart attack at 45- was the best guitar player ever and he is the king of BBR guitar week. Enjoy this video as evidence :