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Guitar Licks: Wes Montgomery


How to Play Jazz Guitar in the Style of Wes Montgomery



There is no doubt that Wes Montgomery was one of the most legendary players of all time. In fact, when you say the words “jazz guitar,” many people immediately associate the genre with "The Thumb", as he was affectionately known.

Beginning his career by learning and performing note-by-note transcriptions of Charlie Christian solos, Wes quickly moved on to become one of the most influential guitarists from his, or any, era. His influence can be heard in the playing of great guitarists such as Pat Martino, George Benson, Pat Metheny and Emily Remler, just to name a few. You would be hard pressed to find any jazz guitarist that wasn’t influenced by Wes’ playing at one point or another in their development.

Since Wes was such a powerhouse in the jazz guitar world, it is a good idea to spend some time studying his licks, phrases, and improvisational concepts, which is what this lesson is designed to do. So, grab your favorite axe (an L-5 if you have one handy) and begin exploring these commonly used phrases and improvisational concepts taken from the playing of one of the greatest jazzers of all time, Wes Montgomery.


Recommended listening: Smokin' at the Half Note (live)


II V I Licks

The first lick starts with a series of arpeggio's. The first 4 notes make a Dm7 arpeggio, followed by a Cmaj7 arpeggio, then again a Dm7. The Cmaj7 arpeggio in the first bar contains all the tensions of Dm7 plus the b7: C (b7), E(9), G (11), B (13). The Last bar is build around a C triad arpeggio.


Cmaj7 Arpeggio C E G B
R 3 5 7
Played over Dm7 b7 9 11 13



Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 1



The next lick is played over a 251 in G major. The second half of the first bar consists of a chromatic line that is also used a lot by Pat Metheny, outlining a D7b9.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 2



This next lick has a nice voice leading between the b7 of D7 and 3rd of Gmaj7.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 3



This one's a blues cliche, though in the hands of a master like Wes any cliche sounded good.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 4



The next lick over a 251 in C major has a nice chromatic line in the second bar, delayed by the Dm arpeggio.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 5



This one speaks for itself.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 6



Minor Lick

This minor lick is in the D Dorian scale with some added chromatics. Here is a sample D Dorian fingering to get you started if this scale is new to you:

Listen & Play:

D Dorian Scale Diagram


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 7



Dominant Lick

A bluesy lick over G7 with double stops (playing 2 notes at once).


Listen & Play:

Wes Montgomery Lick 8



Octave Licks

This first octave lick is a bluesy line over an A7 chord, mixing the major 3rd (C#) with the blue note (C) to get that classic Wes sound.


Listen & Play:

Wes Montgomery Lick 9



Another approach Wes liked to use with octaves was to run a rhythm across a ii V I phrase, which you can hear and see in the next example.


Listen & Play:


Wes Montgomery Lick 10


Chord Licks

This first Wes chord lick uses a number of Bb7 inversions, including 9ths, as well as a chromatic approach chord to finish the lick in typical Wes style.


Listen & Play:

Wes Montgomery Lick 11



Here is a bluesy chord lick that uses a Bdim7 chord to create a Bb7b9 sound over the given chord change.


Bdim7 Chord B D F Ab
1 b3 b5 bb7
Played over Bb7 b9 3 5 b7



Listen & Play:

Wes Montgomery Lick 12



Wes Style Blues Solo

To help you take these licks from the technical side of your practice routine to the musical, here is a sample solo over a Bb Blues that uses licks from this lesson in its construction.

Here is a backing track that you can use to practice this solo, as well as all the licks in this lesson, as you take these ideas further in the woodshed.

Listen & Play:


And here is the solo to practice. Go slow at first, learning each 4 bar phrase, as you learn the entire solo build in a typical "three tier" appraoch that was characteristic of Wes' playing.

Listen & Play:

Wes Montgomery Lick 14




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