Wes Montgomery playing his ubiquitous Gibson L-5

One thing I’ve learned over the years about guitar playing, especially in my often unsuccessful attempts at playing jazz and blues, is learning how to control the tone of your instrument may be the single most important lesson a guitarist can learn.  A guitarist may have an incredible vocabulary of notes and phrases, but without an understanding of tone and the subtleties of phrasing, the music risks mediocrity.

Tone (this is true for conversation as well) is “How” you musically say something, which I have learned is often more important than “what” you say.   Many talented guitarists, however, are less concerned with tone and phrasing than jazz and blues guitarists used to be. They often sound as if playing loud or fast or distorted is the main goal of their performance.  When I listen to such guitarists, I often feel as though I’m drowning in their incomprehensible sound.

Often, if tone and phrasing is achieved through electronics, amps, pickups, switches, the guitar itself and guitar gear in general, the tone takes on an artificial quality.  Sound equipment has become so sophisticated for guitars, that often achieving a specific “digital” sound becomes the “end” rather than a “means” to the goal of a musical performance.

The true jazz tone is a balance between the sweetness of an acoustic sound and the warmth of a tube amp, as illustrated by a truly great jazz guitarist like Wes Montgomery.  He is a true master of the jazz guitar tone.  The video below of a live performance, is a perfect example of how Montgomery uses tone and phrasing to achieve his distinctive jazz guitar tone.

The film illustrates how Montgomery creates this tone through his unconventional (for a sixties jazz guitar player) and highly influential right-hand technique.  We can see the close-ups with remarkable detail of his left and right hands, useful for aspiring jazz guitarists.  Entirely self-taught, Wes never uses a pick of any kind—only his thumb for chord melodies, single lines, and those chilling octave melodies.  Consequently, the sounds he produces are fat and warm—these are soulful, vocal-like tones that are almost impossible to reproduce with a pick.  Because he is so damn good, he makes it look easy, but, of course, it isn’t.  Even though we may be in awe of his virtuosic abilities, novice players can still learn something about how he executes his technique.  I think for beginners, and it was certainly true for me, playing with the thumb comes naturally.  Until recently, I never thought I could play melodies without the use of a pick, but I do it all the time now.

I heard somewhere that he had a double-jointed thumb, meaning that he could play both up and down strokes with his thumb the way a pick player would use alternate picking strokes with the pick.  I’ve tried it; it’s very hard.

The video really highlights the technique Montgomery uses.  We also get a peek into Montgomery’s interaction with his backup musicians who are obviously totally literate in the language of post-bop jazz.  We can their banter between songs. Right after they finish playing Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream,” (named after Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild, one of the great patrons of bebop jazz during the 50s), Wes patiently explains to his piano player, Pim Jacobs, the chord arrangement for “The End of a Love Affair” right before they play the tune.  Montgomery is clearly the leader here, but even so, he is particularly generous by giving plenty of space to his musicians for soloing, and they do brilliantly.

The video: Session was taped in 1965:

Source for video and track list from Steftiaan Video Produkties

Songs performed with track times:  00:00:00 “(I Love) Blues”; 00:05:22 “Nica’s Dream”;  00:14:19 “The End Of A Love Affair ” rehearsal;  00:20:50 “The End Of A Love Affair.”

The amazing rhythm section accompanying Wes Montgomery include Pim Jacobs, piano; Ruud Jacobs, bass; Han Bennink, drums, all Dutch musicians.


As a side note, The Netherlands has always had a reputation for producing remarkably talented musicians, always ready on a moment’s notice to sit in on an American jazz recording session.  I am reminded of one of Coleman Hawkins’ great recordings Dutch Treat, recorded in The Hague, Laren, and Hilversum between February 4, 1935, and June 14, 1938 (eighty-years ago!) during his European sojourn three years before the Second World War. In 1998 Avid records released the most comprehensive collection of his Dutch recordings in a double-disc anthology.


Rio Lobo Guitar

Rio Lobo Guitar

I’ve written about Tommy Tedesco and jazz’s “unsung heroes” on this blog before.  It bears worth mentioning once again that many jazz musicians relied on their studio session work more than anything else to put food on their family’s table.  While Tommy Tedesco played guitar as a session musician on albums that garnered millions for well-known artists, he never had a successful recording career himself.

Sadly, Tedesco’s highly influential and often brilliant studio work mostly went unaccredited (cf. Denny Tedesco’s Wrecking Crew documentary and Guitar World‘s 2014 interview with him).  I recently discovered a powerful example of this when I watched the 1970 John Wayne western Rio Lobo.

The opening sequence was fascinating and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  William H. Clothier, cinematographer for countless westerns, including many John Wayne westerns, and main title designer Dan Perri, who for many years remained uncredited as the creator of the guitar sequence (Perri, along with George Lucas is best known for creating the famous “opening crawl” main title sequence for the very first Star Wars film:  Star Wars:  Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977) collaborated on the Rio Lobo opening sequence.

The Rio Lobo title sequence shows a Spanish style guitar being played from a variety of different angles, including an “inside” shot of the guitar from behind the strings. Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the guitar instrumental itself is a rather run-of-the-mill sentimental Spanish melody.  The musician is filmed while he fingers the chords and notes, using standard Spanish sounding arpeggios.

Curiously, I discovered that the guitarist was Tommy Tedesco, though he goes uncredited for his work.  However, the musician shown playing in the film, according to Denny Tedesco, is not Tommy Tedesco.  Tedesco never played using only his fingers; he only played using a pick.

Here’s the main title sequence to Rio Lobo:

How Tommy Tedesco’s playing ended up on the opening title sequence of a John Wayne movie is probably the same way he ended up playing on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album:  as a dedicated studio musician willing to lend his virtuoso guitar talents to anyone who needed him.

First Brew Session of 2018

It’s been over a year since my last brew session.  I brewed a Belgian wheat style beer using my new brewery set up that includes a small 12 volt hot water pump I modified to work on 120 volts.  Some pics:

Here’s the end result: about three cases of freshly bottled Belgian wheat.  Twenty-four bottles are capped and thirty bottles have flip-tops:

New brew set up.  Finally out of the kitchen.  Hot water (150 deg.) being pumped from kettle into my new mash tun.  Smaller kettle to the right of mash tun used to hold first “runnings.”  Runnings from mash tun are gravity fed to pump which pumps the wort to the smaller kettle where it is “held” until sparge.  Sparge water is pumped into mash tun and slowly drained by gravity directly into the boil kettle below.  Remainder of the wort is then gravity fed into the boil kettle.  Pump is used only to pump hot water from boil kettle up into mush tun:

Mashing in—150 deg. water is pumped from the boil kettle below up into mash tun.  One problem I faced is that the silicone hoses are “thin walled” and bend/crimp too easily as the hot water is pumped through them.  Need thicker walled hoses to prevent pinching:

The real test of a good mash tun is its ability to hold the “target” temperature for 60 minutes.  There is always heat loss due to transference of hot liquids through hoses, temperature of mash tun (necessary to preheat tun), and temperature of the grains that are added to the hot water.  To ensure a stable temperature for the duration of the mash, I wrapped the tun with a heating pad (the kind that does not automatically turn off after a period of time), a car windshield sun reflector wrapped around the tun, and a blanket.  The mash held a temp. 0f 148 deg. for the entire mash time of 60 minutes.  This tun is far superior to my old chest style cooler for holding mash temps.

Missing a photo of pumping wort into secondary kettle to the right of mash tun.  In the past I’ve had to transfer hot liquid by hand using a two-quart container.  Pump eliminated this step.  Photo below shows wort being transferred directly to the empty boil kettle using gravity during the sparge step.  After first runnings are pumped into secondary kettle, 170 deg. sparge water is pumped into the mash tun.  That leaves the boil kettle empty.  After the step pictured is concluded, the first runnings being held in the secondary kettle are gravity fed into boil kettle.

Starting the boil of about 7.5 gallons of wort which will boil down to about 6.5 gallons of sweet wort.  Propane burner worked perfectly.  Far more efficient use of BTU’s with propane than with natural gas on kitchen stove:

Spent grains get dumped on compost pile in the back yard for the hungry birds.  They make short work of it.  Still quite a bit of sugar content in these grains.