Wes Montgomery - guitar; Buddy Montgomery - piano; Monk Montgomery - bass; Grady Tate - drums
Acknowledged as one of the most important and influential guitarists to come along in the wake of guitar innovators Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery brought an unconventional approach to the six-stringed instrument that involved using his right hand thumb for downstrokes and upstrokes instead of a pick. This unorthodox fingers-on-strings approach allowed the Indiana native to get a warm, round sound on the instrument that was instantly recognizable while his delivery was imbued with deep soul. Montgomerys remarkably fluid single note facility and unprecedented technique of using octaves as a melodic device put him far ahead of the guitar pack during the late 1950s. His signature octave technique remains one of the most copied guitaristic devices, frequently employed by such modern players as Joe Pass, George Benson, Pat Martino, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell, Lee Ritenour, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield and Kevin Eubanks.
For his appearance at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, the guitar great was joined by his brothers Monk on bass and Buddy on piano while drummer Grady Tate provided his always reliable swing factor to the proceedings. Following introductions by Newport impresario George Wein, the quartet launches into a spirited rendition of Montgomery's "Naptown Blues" (named for his hometown of Indianapolis). Buddy solos first on this jaunty uptempo swinger and Wes follows with a brilliant solo that showcases his bristling single note lines and inimitable use of swinging octaves. Brother Monk, a pioneer on electric bass, also gets in some licks of his own here on an extended walking bass solo. Next up is a mellow instrumental take on the Little Anthony & The Imperials hit, "Goin' Out of My Head," which was also the title track of Montgomery's highly successful 1965 album for Verve Records. The guitarist's smooth octaves carry the vocals on this familiar pop tune. They close out the Newport set with a lively rendition of "Tequila," the Latin-flavored rock tune introduced in 1958 by The Champs and which also served as the title track for Montgomery's best-selling 1966 Verve album. The guitarist's unparalleled octaves work is on full display on this vibrant jam.
Though he emerged on the scene in the late 1950s as a highly regarded exponent of urgently swinging hard bop (exemplified by such classic recordings as 1960's The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, 1962's Full House and 1965's Smokin' at the Half Note), Montgomery ultimately became a practitioner of easy grooving, pleasingly melodic fare that set the tone for smooth jazz. His later recordings like Bumpin', California Dreaming, Goin' Out of My Head and Road Song served as a template for such current smooth jazz guitarists including Ronnie Jordan, Norman Brown, Peter White, Chieli Minucci and Chuck Loeb.
Born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Montgomery picked up guitar at the relatively late age of 19 and began teaching himself how to play by copying recordings of his guitar idol, Charlie Christian, by ear. He played locally at the Club 440 before touring the Midwest and South with his own group. In 1948, he was hired by Lionel Hampton and remained with his big band through 1950. Returning to his hometown, Wes decided to make music a secondary part of his life in order to support his large family. While settling down to a grueling factory job by day, he continued playing guitar by night at the Missile Club, where he was discovered by alto sax great and talent scout Cannonball Adderley, who brought the guitarist to Riverside Records. Wes' debut for the label, 1959's A Dynamic New Sound, was an organ trio outing with fellow Indianapolis native Melvin Rhyne on Hammond B-3 and Paul Paker on drums. But it was 1960's The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, featuring pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath, that established Montgomery as the new king of the six-string and heir to Charlie Christian's throne.
Wes continued to record in a small group, straight ahead settings for the Riverside label through 1963. His stints with Verve (1964-1966) and A&M (1967-1968) - both under the direction of producer Creed Taylor -- were commercially successful though dismissed by jazz purists. The guitar great had just returned home from a national tour when he suddenly died of a heart attack on June 15, 1968, less than a year after this performance at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival. (Bill Milkowski)