One aspect of the playing of Wes Montgomery that we never talk about is in my opinion the real reason he is the amazing jazz improviser that he is.
The Wes Montgomery Jazz Guitar Style
Most of the time we are in impressed with Wes for playing everything with the thumb, using octaves and playing swinging lines. But actually there is one aspect of his playing that maybe does not get the attention it deserves, and which in my opinion is also more important than the things I already talked about.
Phrasing but also great lines and melodies
When I transcribed or learned this solo I was not really analyzing his playing and I didn’t write down the phrases I just played along with the record and tried to get close to his phrasing. That was very helpful for a lot of things with timing and phrasing and is probably what I would suggest you do when working on transcriptions.
This video is really about something else: How to connect your solo and have a longer story or musical idea in your playing using Wes as an example because he was extremely good at this.
Four on Six and Smokin at the Half Note
Four on Six is to me “The” Wes montgomery piece, and it is also the one that I have learned the most solos with the 3 different versions. If you want to check out my Top 5 classic Albums list you can do so here: Top 5 Classic Jazz Albums
The song is a 16 bar form and it is based on the changes of Summertime with a few extra II V progressions. Something Wes very often adds to his compositions and which is also very typical for Hard bop compositions in general.
Summertime in the key of Gm is clearly the same form and harmony:
What I really want to show you is how long the melodic ideas in Wes solo are and how that really ties the whole thing together.
Melodic ideas over 8 bars – True melodic improvisation
This is a great example of Wes extra-ordinary sense of melody. The initial statement is a call response with a high and a low part.The melody is coming out of a Gm11 arpeggio emphasizing the 9 and the 11.
This is stated on the Gm and then repeated with a slight variation.Then it is developed and shortened on the descending II V’s using just the descending arpeggio.
So what we have here is a melodic idea that spans 8 bars.
Melodies moving through fast changes
This is a much shorter phrase but it is very impressive how Wes moves this around the changes and still manages to spell out the chords. The first part is an F7alt then moving onto Bbmaj7 and really nailing the cadence to the Gm
Jazz is about Rhythm and so is Melodic development
Is a very simple way of using an easy to play motif and then still manage to make it an interesting development across 4 bars.
The motif is repeated for each of the descending II V’s
What to take away from this analysis
The way Wes Montgomery is always making longer musical statements and connects phrases across longer stretches is really what makes him a musical genius to me. Keeping this in mind and working on this aspect of your playing can really improve your solos more than you can imagine.
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Explore Chord soloing like Wes and Joe Pass
Another cornerstone in Wes’ style of playing is his ability to solo with chords. I have a webstore lesson working with a chord solo on the song Summertime here: