Wes Mont­gomery Sunny

Ja­cob Quist­gaard tran­scribes this burn­ing per­for­mance from an ab­so­lute mas­ter of jazz guitar – Wes Mont­gomery. Jam-packed with amaz­ing oc­tave play­ing, you can ex­pect earn­ing a sore thumb – as well as bags of killer jazz licks, mo­tifs and ideas.

Guitar Techniques - - Play: Jazz -

Wes Mont­gomery (1923-1968) left a mas­sive mark – not just in the field of jazz guitar, but also on con­tem­po­rary guitar play­ing in gen­eral. His un­mis­tak­able sound and tech­nique is in­stantly recog­nis­able, and it’s safe to say his play­ing style can be heard in gui­tarists all over the world to this day. Look no fur­ther than in the play­ing of guitar greats like Ge­orge Ben­son, Jimi Hen­drix, Pat Martino, Eric John­son and Mark Knopfler to find some of his pro­found in­flu­ence.

You can find this per­for­mance on the great Talkin’ Verve: Roots Of Acid Jazz al­bum, a bril­liant tes­ta­ment to his soulful ge­nius as well as the foun­da­tion he helped to lay for the more groove-ori­en­tated side of jazz.

Born in In­di­anapo­lis, In­di­ana, Wes Mont­gomery didn’t ac­tu­ally be­gin play­ing se­ri­ously un­til he was 19. How­ever, eight months af­ter start­ing, he had al­ready me­morised all of Char­lie Chris­tian’s so­los from Benny Good­man’s Solo Flight record, and was out there per­form­ing them. Although hold­ing down a day job, Wes spent years prac­tis­ing at night, per­fect­ing his style, with the fire and pas­sion of a true leg­end in the mak­ing.

Per­haps the most fa­mous trait of said style is his sole re­liance on his thumb to pick ev­ery

Rather than re­main­ing in one key, this per­for­mance goes up in semi­tones from C Mi­nor, end­ing on a four-chord vamp in E Mi­nor. The melody is fairly straight at first, then Wes bursts into solo­ing.

note he plays. Leg­end has it that Mont­gomery’s in­cred­i­ble thumb tech­nique evolved from him ex­per­i­ment­ing af­ter re­ceiv­ing com­plaints from neigh­bours and fam­ily over the loud sound cre­ated by the pick as he was prac­tis­ing. The more sub­dued sound of his thumb put a stop to all ob­jec­tions and be­came, some­what un­in­ten­tion­ally, a vi­tal part of his sound. Over time, Mont­gomery de­vel­oped a con­sid­er­able ‘tip’ of hard skin that could then also be used to strike the strings ef­fec­tively with up­strokes.

This bril­liant per­for­mance of the clas­sic tune Sunny has a few of those moments, when 16th-note phrases will ne­ces­si­tate the use of both down and up­strokes, which may seem a lit­tle alien at first. As a gen­eral rule, I rec­om­mend play­ing and prac­tis­ing the tune in seg­ments, es­pe­cially if you haven’t played that much with your thumb be­fore. If you build it up, you will al­low for hard skin to form on your thumb, rather than just killing it in a sin­gle sit­ting and then not be­ing able to use your thumb for days.

Rather than re­main­ing in the one key, this per­for­mance keeps mod­u­lat­ing, go­ing up in semi­tones, start­ing from C Mi­nor and end­ing on a four-chord vamp in Eb Mi­nor. Much like his ren­di­tions of other fa­mous tunes, his modus operandi has him play­ing the melody fairly straight at first, and then burst­ing into solo­ing.

Another cru­cial thing about the per­for­mance is that Wes plays not only the melody – or ‘head’, as jazzers pre­fer to call it – in oc­taves; he ac­tu­ally main­tains the oc­tave-based phrases into his solo and keeps it up the whole way through! So, if you hadn’t mas­tered the art of play­ing in oc­taves be­fore now, you def­i­nitely will af­ter tak­ing this tune on­board. Re­mem­ber, as al­ways, the back­ing track and recorded ver­sion are there for your ref­er­ence and ease of prac­tice. I wish you good luck get­ting the oc­taves up to speed and a fun time di­gest­ing and ap­ply­ing some of the pearls Wes de­liv­ers along the way.

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