The following statement is part of "The Genius Of Wes Montgomery", an article written by Jim Ferguson for the August 1995 issue of JazzTimes.
At fergusonguitar.com you can find the entire article.
PAT METHENY: When I was 13 years old and just starting, Wes was my first guitar-playing hero. A friend said I ought to check him out, so I got five or six of his records. The first one was The Wes Montgomery Trio [Riverside] with Melvin Rhyne and Paul Parker, which I listened to over and over again. The first thing I did was throw away my picks. I did everything I could to sound like Wes Montgomery. But when I started using my Wes stuff around Kansas City, I caught a major draft from the older guys for copying him. It forced me to realize that trying to imitate him wasn't musically good for me and it was even disrespectful. Today, I have a real problem with people who try to sound like him. I don't mind it too much when George Benson does it-somehow there's a literal connection there that has a resonance and truth-but in general it bugs me.
Wes' phrasing and melodic development affected me the most. He had a story-telling quality that let ideas unfold over time in a way no guitarist had done before. He took certain stylistic breakthroughs of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and applied them to the guitar in a way that is the ultimate achievement for an improvising musician. On a phrasing level, he made the guitar speak. Up to that point, players picked every note and had guitar-like phrasing. He was in the same ballpark with the greatest horn improvisers; he's probably the only pre-1970 guitarist I can say that about. Wes and Jim Hall pretty much revolutionized the instrument. Those are the two guys for me.
Wes was a harmonic improviser second to none. He also got that horn-like Clifford Brown articulation happening. Even now there are so few guitarists who can play inside a rhythm section and make it swing like that. A lot of it was the thumb factor. Since he didn't use a pick, he had to not only learn different ways of negotiating tempos, but also innovate ways of getting from point A to point B on the guitar neck. I recently saw a video of him playing with a Dutch big band. What knocked me out was that he casually looked around-as he used just three left-hand fingers-making it all seem so easy. There was such a joyful, happy spirit that I laughed the whole time I saw it.
One of my pet peeves is that people say Wes sold out, but his later records are some of my favorites. The one I recommend most highly is Smokin' At The Half Note [Verve]. I can sing every note played by Wes, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb. "If You Could See Me Now" is the greatest guitar solo ever played, including anything by Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, or anybody else. It's the highest level attained on the guitar in terms of just dealing with music. I also love Down Here On The Ground and A Day In The Life [both A&M]. Those records illuminate another aspect of his improvisational talents: Stretching out and playing 50 choruses on a tune is one thing, but not many guys can take eight bars and make a perfect jewel of a statement.
Right before Wes died in 1968, I met him at the Kansas City Jazz Festival. I asked him for his autograph-today it's on my wall-and explained that I was just learning. He said, "You've got to know all the notes on the instrument." That probably was the best thing he could have told me, because I was still avoiding going up above the 5th fret. He was so nice to me, a little punk with braces on my teeth. I especially remember the glow he had and the vibe of goodness he projected. Wes was a very special cat.
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