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  Three Awesome Guitarists  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

        November 2004:

       Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Wes Montgomery were three of the finest guitarists from the 1950s and 1960s.  Burrell and Green were regulars on the Blue Note label (both as sideman and leaders); Wes recorded for Riverside/Prestige, as well as for Verve. All three were from Eastern sections of the Midwest region: Kenny from Detroit, Grant from St. Louis and Wes from Indianapolis. 

      The most important album for Montgomery was The Incredible Jazz Guitar, released in 1960.  The opening track, a 4-and-a-half minute take of Sonny Rollins’ Airegin, is performed at a speed fast enough to give you a heart attack.  Tommy Flanagan accompanies Wes the same way he complemented Coltrane on Giant Steps of the previous year.  The Heath Brothers make up the rest of the rhythm section.  Some said that Wes was the best thing to happen to jazz guitar since Charlie Christian played with Benny Goodman.  Wes was discovered earlier in the 1950s when Cannonball Adderley traveled to his home town for a one night engagement at a local club.  A Dynamic Duo formed when record producers at Verve paired Wes with Jimmy Smith (in a big-band setting).

     Grant Green was the “house guitarist” for Blue Note during the 1960s.  I’ve listened to so many of the albums he is featured on (as both a sideman and leader) and I have to say that the most memorable track is his reworking of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So on The Complete Quartet Sessions with Sonny Clark.  My fellow North Floridian Sam Jones is on the date (he hailed from Jacksonville) and is paired with the incomparable Art Blakey, who starts hollering instructions to “Don’t Stop” when things start to heat up in the improv.  The descending bass line is catchy; the reconstructed melody is even more addictive- don’t miss this piece.  On 1962s The Latin Bit (which features the underrated Ike Quebec on tenor sax) the highlights are Tico Tico and Beasame Mucho.  The former has the classic blue note “hard” swing to it; the latter is a contemporary rendition of a standard that is worthy of more attention.  I admire Yusef Lateef, so therefore I recommend the album Grantstand (Yusef is on over half the tracks).  Yet if you only buy one Grant Green album, make it Feelin’ The Spirit.  The two top tracks off this album (which feature a young Herbie Hancock playing his heart out) are Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho and Go Down Moses: these two pieces of gold will teach you everything you need to know about the Protestant work ethic (expressed through Sunday Southern-Baptist Church music.)  Also check out Grant’s extraordinary sideman work on Hank Mobley’s Workout session.    

     Kenny Burrell successfully launched a double album in the 1960s called Blue Lights.  It was actually released as two separate LPs and now is sold as one double disc set.  It features Donald Byrd playing Caravan the way Tizol must have originally conceived it (something emerging out of a Daliesque desert from the painting titled Sleep.)  Burrell did stellar sideman work for Kenny Dorham at the Café Bohemia in the 1950s.  Check out his exceptional solos from that series of gigs (under the album name Round ‘About Midnight) on Mexico City (the alternate take) and A Night in Tunisia.  Today Kenny is in high demand, making very well received albums for his new record label.