June 13, 2024

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Wes Montgomery was puzzled: Paris, ’65 – Free download, Videos & Photos

Wes Montgomery was puzzled. Like most leading jazz musicians in 1965, the guitarist didn’t think much of the pop scene. Like many top jazz artists, he felt the music was absurdly repetitious and that many second-rate musicians were making a ton of fast money in an industry increasingly driven by image, not art or talent. Geared to the surging adolescent market, pop lacked substance, Montgomery felt, and covering these formulaic songs on albums could leave one looking like a silly sell-out.

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So in September 1965, when Creed Taylor, Montgomery’s producer at Verve, turned up at his gig at New York’s Half Note and played him Little Anthony & the Imperials’ Goin’ Out of My Head,Montgomery scoffed. “Creed, you must be going out of your head. I can’t do that kind of stuff.” [Photo at top of producer Creed Taylor and guitarist Wes Montgomery by Chuck Stewart]

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Months earlier Montgomery had been in Europe on his first tour. Backing the guitarist was pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, drummer Jimmy Lovelace and special guest Johnny Griffin. On March 27 of ’65, the group appeared a the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris. For years, their performance at the small French theater was available only as a bootleg. Now, Resonance Records has remixed and reissued a clean, warm version in cooperation with the Montgomery estate. The result is a stunning two-CD set, Wes Montgomery: In Paris, the Definitive ORTF Recording. The music and fidelity are remarkable.

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ORTF stands for the Office of French Radio and Television, which among other things archives recordings of American jazz artists who performed in France. Interestingly, finding the Montgomery tapes were something of an accident. Producer Zev Feldman noticed the listing at ORTF while working on another project. Upon request, Zev and Resonance’s George Klabin sought permission to restore and reissue the Montgomery performance and were given a green light. [Photo above, from left, Zev Feldman and George Klabin]

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The results are truly special. The unleashed energy, speed and and swing of the Montgomery group on stage is stunning on songs such as Four on Six, Impressions, To Wane, Jingles and others. And there’s lots of heart on the ballads, such as The Girl Next Door and Here’s That Rainy Day. The latter is amazing. The Johnny Griffin tracks—Full House, ‘Round Midnight and Blue ‘n Boogie/West Coast Blues—have a harder sound, with the saxophonist wailing away. A different mood from the quartet tracks but still worthy. [Photo above of Wes Montgomery in Paris by Jean-Pierre Leloir, courtesy of Resonance Records]

This set is a fantastic addition to the Wes Montgomery canon and shows us how much more muscular and spirited the guitarist was in a performance setting abroad than when harnessed in the studio.

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Getting back to that conversation between Creed and Montgomery about Goin’ Out of My Head at the Half Note later in the  year, let Creed pick up the story from my interview with the legendary producer: “I said [to Montgomery], ‘Listen to the chord changes and the melody, and you’ll find there’s something there that’s going to be very useful for you in a recording studio.’ I also told Wes that Oliver Nelson was arranging and that he already had the chart in his head. ‘Forget the vocal and performance,’ I told Wes. ‘Listen to the chord changes.’ That was the only time I had to talk to Wes in a somewhat uncomfortable situation.”

In November ’65, Montgomery recorded the album, Goin’ Out of My Head, for Creed at Verve, with Oliver Nelson’s arrangements. This would be the start of Montgomery’s revolutionary exploration of the pop chart at Verve and CTI. During this brief but prolific period, Montgomery would turn AM-radio hits into hip adult contemporary jazz classics. Months before he crossed over, he was in Paris showing off his stuff to an audience just as confused as he was by the thunderous rise of pop-rock and soul.

Wes Montgomery died in June 1968.

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