I was not a fan of jazz when growing up. And as one of the characters from the movie The Commitments once said when one of their horn players started deviating on a gig, “Jazz is musical wanking. If you want to play something play with that thing between your legs.” And that bias seemed to stay with me because I also couldn’t quite “get it.” But I got curious several times and finally sat down to listen to some jazz guitar, which wasn’t so “out there” unlike others instruments. Anyway, I opted to listen to Wes Montgomery on a recommendation. Having listened to Wes for a while now, I began changing my bias against jazz to tolerable but in small doses.
Anyway, I used to have a YouTube link to an early film recording of Wes and his trio but it’s now private so I can’t use it. But it has been very influential and instrumental in changing that old bias. Everything about that recording is gold. I really enjoyed Harold Mabern’s playing on the piano — so smooth and inventive.
Montgomery’s unique playing style using his right thumb to pick is amazing to watch. That he couldn’t read a note whatsoever only added to the interest I had. The fact that he’s also been one of the most influential guitarist of the last century probably ensures he will continue to endure alongside the current crop of great guitarists.
This track Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk is from that recording session whose link I no longer have access to. It features Harold Mabern (piano), Arthur Harper (bass) and Jimmy Lovelace (drums). In this, Wes makes playing the guitar so easy. In fact, the entire group look so casual and laid-back, like friends having a conversation with one another, only with their instruments.
Django Reinhardt is another consider “great”. Overcoming a handicap (using only two fingers to finger the notes), he’s rightly considered one of the best there ever was. Like Montgomery, Reinhardt plays clean notes, something worth appreciating. I’m not as familiar with Django’s work as I am with Wes’, but I notice that his Gypsy roots is showing because of the type of guitar he’s using. I favour the nylon string classical guitar for playing and not the narrow-necked steel string that is popular.
Another guitarist worth noting when it comes to jazz is Charlie Christian, another influential guitarist who helped to bring a new popularity to jazz guitar playing using the electric guitar. He was active during the swing era and is really worth listening too for variety.
Sadly all three greats share a common trend among most greats: they died before the standard retirement age — Christian, 35; Reinhardt, 43; Montgomery, 45. But then they weren’t standard people, eh.