John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery (March 6, 1923 – June 15, 1968) was an American jazz guitarist. He is widely considered one of the major jazz guitarists, emerging after such seminal figures as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian and influencing countless others. Montgomery was known for an unusual technique of plucking the strings with the side of his thumb which granted him a distinctive sound.
He often worked with his brothers Buddy (piano and vibes) and Monk (bass guitar), and with organist Jimmy Smith. Montgomery’s recordings up to 1965 were generally oriented towards hard bop, soul jazz, and post bop, while circa 1965 he began recording more pop-oriented instrumental albums that featured less improvisation but found mainstream success. His later-career guitar style is a major influence on fusion and smooth jazz.
Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to NPR Jazz Profiles “The Life and Music Of Wes Montgomery”, the nickname “Wes” was a child’s abbreviation of his middle name, Leslie. He came from a musical family; his brothers, Monk (double bass and electric bass) and Buddy(vibraphone and piano), were jazz performers. The brothers released a number of albums together as the Montgomery Brothers. Although he was not skilled at reading music, he could learn complex melodies and riffs by ear. Montgomery started learning the six-string guitar at the relatively late age of 20 by listening to and learning the recordings of his idol, guitarist Charlie Christian; however, he had played a four string tenor guitar since age twelve. He was known for his ability to play Christian’s solos note for note and was hired by Lionel Hampton for this ability.