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New Unreleased Recordings From Wes Montgomery With The Wynton Kelly Trio

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JGT Contributor Joe Barth provides some interesting perspectives on the new album, Wes Montgomery Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings with the Wynton Kelly Trio

Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings are the previously unreleased recordings from Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio at the famed Half Note jazz club in New York City. In my twenty-five years of interviewing the greatest jazz guitarist in the world, I always ask for what they consider the most influential jazz guitar album. About 75% of these guitarists tell me that the jazz guitar album that has influenced them the most is Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note. This album featured Wes with the Wynton Kelly Trio with Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.  It was recorded live in June 1965 at the Half Note Club in New York City and at Rudy Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey in September 1965.  On the original Half Note record only two songs were recorded at the club and the others were performed at the club but producer, Creed Taylor, wanted them re-recorded at Van Gelder’s studio in September.

Releases December 1, 2023

In this new Maximum Swing 2-CD album, we have over two hours of the Half Note live recordings of Wes with pianist Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Herman Wright, and Larry Ridley.  The Wynton Kelly trio was Miles Davis’ rhythm section from 1959-1963 and this rhythm section inspired Wes’ playing to new heights.  This new Resonance Records release has all the Wes and Trio Half Note recordings of September 24, 1965, and November 5, 12, and 19, 1964 that were recorded for various radio broadcasts.

Read what some of the jazz-guitar greats say about the importance of the Wes Montgomery–Wynton Kelly Trio and the Half Note sessions: 

Pat Metheny…

Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note is certainly number one.  That record just defined so many things for me.  Rhythm section playing, melodic playing, Wes’s solo on “If You Could See Now” is the greatest guitar solo I have ever heard.  That’s the one.  It is like Coleman Hawkin’s solo on “Body and Soul” or some of the other great solos to me. That solo is the ideal, perfect improvised statement that any guitarist has ever made.  

John Scofield…

Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note is just some of the best jazz ever played on the guitar, especially the song “No Blues.”  To me, it represents an incredibly inspired performance that just really swings so hard.  I thought to myself, “I will never play the way Wes plays on that album, it is just too hard.”  The chords, it was unfathomable, and even now I still don’t see how he pulled it off and did it with such a snap. I felt that if I just practiced hard enough, I could play as fast as Pat Martino. With Jim Hall, I thought that if I just got into the feel of the music enough, I could play like him.  But with Wes, forget it, (laughter) it’s just not in me.   

Mike Stern…

Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note, his swing and time feel are so great on that record.  His solos are so melodic and developed.  They just build so well.  I also love the warm sound he gets from his thumb. I try to get that warm sound in my own way through the Tele-style guitar that I play.  I try to get a fat sound through the way I process my sound.  I also loved the way Wes phrases his solos on that album. 

Dave Stryker…

What can you say about Wes that hasn’t been said?  He has the hippest lines played with heart, soul, and great feel.  He has a beautiful touch with his thumb.  This is a solo that I feel all my students should transcribe.  This song is built on the changes of “Summertime.”  Students see how a master plays through certain changes.  Not that you would play the exact solo on a gig but when one learns solos like these, some of this comes through as a player.

John Hart…

Wes Montgomery Smokin’ at the Half Note. It is loose and swinging, Wes is guesting with the Wynton Kelly trio who did so many recordings with Miles. Classic solos on “No Blues” and “If You Could See Me Now.” We get to hear Wes really stretching out in a live setting.

These 2 CDs also come with a 51-page booklet filled with notes, interviews and reminisces by Bill Frisell, Mike Stern, Herbie Hancock, and others.  There is also a great article and track by track breakdown by author Bill Milkowski.


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