Musicians, Fans Celebrate Wes Montgomery Album Release
Resonance Records celebrated the release of Echoes Of Indiana Avenue, a collection of previously unreleased recordings by guitarist Wes Montgomery, at Indianapolis’ Jazz Kitchen on March 6. The walls of the rust-colored, dimly lit venue did some echoing of their own, with performances and speeches that emphasized the significant impact of Indianapolis on the jazz community around the world.
The event was attended by numerous jazz luminaries, including bassist Mingo Jones and pianist Melvin Rhyne, both of whom performed on Echoes, which is made up of live and studio recordings from around 1957–’58. Indianapolis mayor Gregory A. Ballard, famed jazz photographer Duncan Schiedt and members of Montgomery’s family were also in attendance.
The master of ceremonies for the event was pioneering jazz broadcaster Chuck Workman, who died less than three weeks later, on March 25 at age 79.
The evening’s speeches were kicked off by comments from Resonance Records Executive Vice President and General Manager Zev Feldman. He initially heard about the Echoes tapes in 2009 through producer and Mosaic Records co-founder Michael Cuscuna. It was a discovery that would lead to years of research, with tips and insight from Indianapolis’ key authorities in jazz—among them Dr. David Baker.
“We started this process between 2010 and 2011,” Feldman said. “We made three trips to Indianapolis, where we met with scholars, educators, people that knew Wes, and friends of his, and we started to piece together what we had. All we had were the tapes. What we learned was more than just music from an incredibly iconic artist. We learned about a guy named Wes Montgomery and who he was, and we learned about a place called Indiana Avenue, and the history of this place where the music breathed and lived. It was a very important place and the nerve center of the African American experience.”
Close friends and family of Montgomery, as well as family and acquaintances of Indy music icons J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard, swapped emotional and humorous stories about the historic Indiana Avenue jazz district and the legendary guitarist’s signature style.
“What a sound he had—it came from his soul,” said Montgomery’s son Robert. “My dad used to play that thing loud, and my mother goes, ‘Wes, if you don’t turn that damn thing off, I’m going to throw you and him out!’ And that’s where his sound developed. It came from my mother.” He continued, “It’s a long time due for my dad.”
Schiedt, who along with Ballard and Jones also offered a speech, reminisced about his most memorable Montgomery experience: a performance by the guitarist in front of Cannonball Adderley, George Shearing and Lennie Tristano.
“Wes played about four measures, and I could hear a chair squeaking in the back,” Schiedt recalled. “Cannonball was dragging his chair in the middle of the room in front of the stage. He had his head back and his eyes shut listening. I don’t think he’d ever heard Wes before. Wes headed to New York within a week or two.”
Proceeds from the sale of the first of 1,000 hand-serialized Echoes double-LPs, which was auctioned prior to the release of the album, were presented to Lynne Griffin, director of cultural health initiatives for the American Heart Association, on behalf of Resonance Records. (Wes Montgomery passed away from a heart attack in 1968.)
The event concluded with a Montgomery-style performance by the Indy Guitar Summit, featuring Bill Lancton, Steve Weakley, Frank Steans and other special guests.
“He was more a humanitarian than he was a musician,” Robert Montgomery said. “As he played, he worked a job, and played. But there was no schooling. It came from a man who just decided to say, ‘I’m going to play a guitar.’”