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Wes Montgomery Biography


Home > Music > M > Montgomery, Wes > Biography


Birth Name: John Leslie Montgomery
Born: 1923/03/06
Birth Place: Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Died: 1968/06/15
Genres: Jazz, Soul Jazz, Smooth Jazz, Crossover Jazz, Mainstream Jazz, Hard Bop


John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery was born March 6, 1923 in Indianapolis, Indiana and was a jazz guitarist. Born into a musical family with brothers who played bass guitar and piano, Montgomery grew up around jazz performers. The brothers released a number of albums together as the Montgomery Brothers.

Montgomery had the ability to play music by ear and learn complex melodies. At the late age of 20 he began to learn to play the six string guitar by listening to the recordings of guitarist, Charlie Christian. Christian’s gypsy style of jazz playing heavily influenced Montgomery’s developing style.

Montgomery got his start playing in local clubs at night, while working a day job. Cannonball Adderley heard Montgomery in an Indianapolis club and introduced him to record producer Orrin Keepnews who helped to secure Montgomery a recording contract with Riverside Records. Adderley and Montgomery would later go on to work together on the album, “Pollwinners.” Montgomery also recorded with his brothers and other musicians, such as the Wynton Kelly Trio in the early stages of his career. John Coltrane extended a place in his band to Montgomery after a jam session; however, Montgomery continued to lead his own band.

Montgomery recorded the bulk of his successful work throughout the 1960s, a time when he was most prolific. His second album, “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” earned him Down Beat magazine's New Star award in 1960.

1965 saw Montgomery nominated for two Grammy Awards for his album, “Bumpin’.” He received a Grammy Award for “Goin' Out of My Head,” for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by Large Group or Soloist with Large Group in 1966. 1968 marked another nomination for “Eleanor Rigby” and “Down Here on the Ground,” and again in 1969 for “Willow, Weep for Me.”

Montgomery's recordings up to 1965 were focused on a hard-bop jazz sound. From 1965 onwards he moved more towards a soft jazz sound. In 1968 Montgomery awoke and told his wife that he did not feel well and then collapsed minutes later, dying of a heart attack. Montgomery was at the height of his career when he died.