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.
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.