Reno De Stefano
This statement by Ralph J. Gleason, one of the most highly respected and most widely read writers on jazz, certainly indicates the magnitude of Montgomery’s contribution to the evolution of jazz guitar. However, many jazz critics have been too eager to make such extravagant commentaries of their favorite musicians, often without sound musicological analysis and historical reflection. Although in his writings, Gleason has not really attempted to methodologically establish Montgomery’s historical significance and impact, his statement does truthfully depict Montgomery’s eminence in jazz guitar history.
Joe Pass once said that, “there have been only three real innovators on the [jazz] guitar- Wes, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.”1 According to the German jazz scholar Joachim E. Berendt, “three musicians were the actual igniters of the sixties guitar explosion, each in a different field of music: Wes Montgomery in jazz, B.B. King in blues, and Jimi Hendrix in rock.”Among the modern guitarists such as Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Larry Coryell, etc., why has Montgomery’s contribution been considered most significant? To answer this question and fully understand its implications, it is important that we first take a brief look at certain developments in jazz history. We will then demonstrate how particularities of Wes’ style have impacted most directly on jazz history and musicians.
The Reception and Impact of Wes Montgomery’s Music