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Jacobs School musicians honor iconic jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery in concert to air on WTIU

Mar 3, 2023

A century after his birth, iconic jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery is being honored with a concert filmed in collaboration between the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and WTIU. The concert pays tribute to the Indianapolis-born musician who defined a generation of jazz music and found worldwide acclaim.

Wes Montgomery at 100 was recorded in front of a live studio audience in WTIU Studios at IU Bloomington on Oct. 17, 2022. &lt... “Wes Montgomery at 100” was recorded in front of a live studio audience in WTIU Studios at IU Bloomington on Oct. 17, 2022. Photo by Chris Howell, Indiana University

WTIU will air “Wes Montgomery at 100: A 100th Birthday Tribute Concert,” performed by the Jacobs School of Music Jazz Ensemble and filmed with a live studio audience on the Bloomington campus. The concert accompanies “Wes Bound: The Genius of Wes Montgomery,” the first full-length documentary about the legendary musician.

David Baker. Photo by Kendall Reeves David Baker. Photo by Kendall Reeves

The documentary — directed and produced by Kevin Finch, founder of Jukeboxer Productions in Indianapolis — includes interviews with acclaimed musicians influenced by Montgomery, like platinum -selling artist George Benson, rock ‘n’ roll guitar icon Slash and 20-time Grammy winner Pat Metheny. Viewers will see interviews with Montgomery’s friends, family and peers and a rare glimpse at 8mm home movie footage provided by his family.

Montgomery’s connection to IU is found through the late David Baker, who was a distinguished professor of music and founder of the Jazz Studies Program at the Jacobs School of Music. Baker, who was department chair from 1968 to 2013, played music with Montgomery in the famed jazz clubs along Indianapolis’ historic Indiana Avenue throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Baker and Montgomery, along with jazz greats Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Coe, J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Larry Ridley and David Young, are commemorated on the “Jazz Masters of Indiana Avenue” mural along Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis.

Several Jacobs School faculty members contributed their talents to the tribute concert, including Dave Stryker, adjunct lecturer in jazz guitar. Stryker is one of the most notable jazz guitarists today, having toured the world playing in the Stanley Turrentine Quintet and with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard.

Dave Stryker, adjunct lecturer in jazz guitar at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, performs a solo during the recording of Dave Stryker, adjunct lecturer in jazz guitar at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, performs a solo during the recording of “Wes Montgomery at 100” at WTIU Studios. Photo by Chris Howell, Indiana University

“Wes Montgomery is one of my biggest heroes and one of the greatest jazz guitar players of all time, so it was an incredible honor to pay tribute to him,” Stryker said. “He developed a style of playing with his thumb, which to that point had not been done, and it really gave him a beautiful, bell-like, round sound on his guitar. He was just a genius.”

Stryker performed as the featured guitar soloist during the “Wes Montgomery at 100” performance. Acclaimed organist Bobby Floyd and drummer Sean Dobbins joined Stryker as a powerhouse trio.

Brent Wallarab, the David N. Baker associate professor of jazz studies at Jacobs School of Music, directed the jazz ensemble. He said it was an honor to pay tribute to Montgomery.

“Wes Montgomery capsulized the ‘Indianapolis Sound’ that became so influential in the national jazz scene,” Wallarab said. “Indiana has always been an important state for jazz, starting with the Gennett Records recording studio in Richmond, Indiana, where many early jazz greats recorded their first records.”

American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery performs with his quartet on the BBC Television series :Jazz 625 at Television Centre in Lon... American jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery performs with his quartet on the BBC Television series :Jazz 625" at Television Centre in London in 1965. Photo by David Redfern, Redferns

Among the artists who recorded at Gennett Records were Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Gene Autry and Bloomington’s own Hoagy Carmichael. Wallarab said the regional sound that emerged from the live scene on Indianapolis’ Indiana Avenue from the 1930s to 1960s was unique.

“It was blues-drenched, hard-swinging, full-bodied and expressive,” Wallarab said. “Artists like Wes Montgomery and many others emerged as some of the leading innovators on their instruments and in the art of improvisation and composition.”

The documentary and tribute concert will air consecutively on March 5 and 6 on WTIU.

  • “Wes Bound: The Genius of Wes Montgomery”: 1:30 p.m. March 5 and 8 p.m. March 6.
  • “Wes Montgomery at 100: A 100th Birthday Tribute Concert”: 3 p.m. March 5 and 9:30 p.m. March 6.

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