Recent Listening: Wes Montgomery, Discovered

Wes Montgomery, Echoes of Indiana Avenue (Resonance)

It is part of jazz lore; when Cannonball Adderley heard Wes Montgomery in Indianapolis in 1959, he was so impressed that he insisted his label, Riverside, record the guitarist at once. Orrin Keepnews of Riverside took Montgomery and his trio into a studio. After a dozen critically acclaimed albums for Riverside, Montgomery signed with Verve, then with A&M. By the end of the 1960s he was one of the few jazz artists—and one of the last—to become a pop star. He achieved that while, in his few years of life, establishing himself as a major role model for guitarists.

Producer Michael Cuscuna, who over the years has preserved so much timeless music in his Mosaic and Blue Note projects, got wind that there were tapes of Montgomery in his pre-Riverside days. After Cuscuna heard them, he looked for a company that would understand the tapes’ significance and treat them accordingly. Resonance was the company. Echoes of Indiana Avenue finds Montgomery in 1957 and 1958 in performances about evenly divided between studios and clubs. His brothers, pianist Buddy and bassist Monk, are with him for a “Straight No Chaser” that discloses not only Wes’s advanced blues conception but also his skill as an accompanist able to provoke hard swing.

With pianist/organist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker, who would be with him on his first Riverside records, we hear the Montgomery who got Adderley so excited. There are splendid versions of “’Round Midnight,” “Nica’s Dream,” and “Darn That Dream” with Rhyne and Parker. Pianist Earl Van Riper, bassist Mingo Jones and drummer Sonny Johnson have spirited give-and-take with Montgomery in club performances of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Misty” and a medley of “Body & Soul” and “Don’t Blame Me” (incorrectly identified in the notes as “My Old Flame”). The first piece in the album is a tasteful treatment of “Diablo’s Dance” by Shorty Rogers, a hero of west coast jazz. The last is a club performance of down-home country blues guitar so funky that many in his audience can’t—and don’t—restrain themselves. It is like no other Montgomery on record.

The 21-page booklet attached as an integral part of the CD package has essays by Cuscuna; jazz historian Dan Morgenstern; Buddy and Monk Montgomery; trombonist, cellist, educator, Indianapolis native and Montgomery contemporary David Baker; guitarist Pat Martino and critic Bill Milkowski.

Wes Montgomery made an enormous impact on music in his 43 years. This CD lets us hear that he was fully formed before most of us knew he existed.

It is not Rifftides policy to embed promotional videos, but this one offers information and entertainment that earns a one-time suspension of the rule.

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  1. says

    Between this gem from Resonance and the upcoming 4/17/12 Uptown release of never-before-heard Hank Mobley (Newark, 1953 at the PIccadilly Club – a 2 CD set), 2012 is off to a great start. Lovely surprises for the jazz fan – getting to hear new music from 2 of jazz’s greatest gifts to us.

  2. Frank Roellinger says

    Doug, Thanks for posting this. One of the deepest regrets of my life was not going to hear Wes with Wynton Kelly’s Trio near Boston in 1965, just about the time “Smokin’ At The Half Note” was recorded. I guess I was just too lazy to drive 30 miles… The video touches on a subject very dear to me, the local jazz scenes that thrived in many U.S. cities in the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps the most notable was Detroit, very competently documented in the book “Before Motown” by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert. Indianapolis of course was another. I wish they all could be documented, this golden age of live jazz before TV and other technologies transformed our society.