Here are a couple of stories. One is amazing and funny. The other is just amazing.
Wes Montgomery, the great jazz guitarist, didn’t know how to read music. That’s right, this is the man whose fingers blistered their way around such tunes as “Twisted Blues” and “Four On Six” and who released such monumental records as Boss Guitar, Full House, and Smokin’ At The Half Note. (I know … it’s a Wynton Kelly record, but nobody really thinks of it that way.)
All that great music coming out of no formal training. Bill Frisell put it perfectly when he said, “He didn’t read music. It was like this homemade thing he did all himself.”
Of course, my favorite Montgomery anecdote comes out of his famous distaste for practicing. Wes put it this way: “I never practice my guitar. From time to time I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat.”
Pat Martino, the great jazz guitarist, does know how to read music. He also knows his way around that fretboard. In fact, Martino had to relearn the guitar after undergoing surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1980. Using his own records as source material, Martino eventually found his old form. Every time I put on one of his more recent records, I continue to be amazed, both by the music and the improbable back story that is a part of it.
Fast forward to 2006, as Martino decides to revisit the passions of his youth by recording Remember: A Tribute To Wes Montgomery. Focusing on Montgomery’s Riverside recordings, Martino’s fine band (Scott Allan Robinson/drums, Danny Sadownick/percussion, David Kikoski/piano and bassist John Patitucci) puts in some inspired performances on such classics as “Full House,” “Twisted Blues” (during which Patitucci swings mightily and leader Martino shows why he’s so deserving of the accolades tossed his way), “West Coast Blues” and, my personal favorite, “Four On Six.”
Not only are the band members sympathetic to the material, they’re very much in tune with each other. Face it, these tunes demand swing and groove. Any hint of “mechanics” and the mood would be ruined. Just check out the slippery descending unison lines that open “SKJ.” Nice.
While there are undoubtedly many reasons for the creation of this record, Martino points out that looking back can be more than just a nostalgia turn: “We get caught up in life and can’t get back to that place when you were a child and had dreams for yourself.”