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What made Wes Montgomery a legend

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“The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery”

“The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery”

Credit:

Riverside Records

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Wes Montgomery, the great jazz guitarist. He died suddenly — a heart attack — when he was just 45.

At the time, Montgomery was at the height of his fame, having had a string of popular albums. And the thing that really made his sound so unique was that he didn’t use guitar picks, using his thumb instead, which gave an intimacy and warmth to his playing. 

Many listeners first heard Montgomery on a groundbreaking album released in 1960, “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.” And that album would not have been made if not for the great saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who saw Montgomery play in Indianapolis and urged the label he was on, Riverside Records, to sign him.

To tell the story of that album — and the impact Montgomery had — we hear from jazz guitar players George Benson and Pat Martino, and from Peter Keepnews, the New York Times editor and writer whose father, Orrin Keepnews, was the cofounder of Riverside Records.

“He talked very intelligently when he spoke, but very sparingly,” said Benson, who first saw Montgomery play live when Benson was just a teenager growing up in Pittsburgh, and would go on to count him as a friend. “When he started playing we knew why. He did his talking through his guitar, not with his mouth.”

This story was produced by Jennie Cataldo for BMP Audio.

In Arts, Culture & MediaMusic.