SFJAZZ’s Education Program continue this week with a Wednesday session showcasing esteemed Bay Area guitarist Terrence Brewer and the music of jazz giant Wes Montgomery. Brewer will be joined by Ken Cook (piano, organ), Adam Gay bass and Greg Wyser-Pratt (drums) for an evening celebrating the “life and music of Wes Montgomery, combining multi-media, live performance, lecture and audience Q & A. In addition, Brewer will be performing music from his Wes Montgomery tribute album, ‘Groovin’ Wes,’ which peaked at No. 9 on the national JazzWeek Radio charts. No musical experience necessary; ideal for teens and adults.”
Suffice it to say, Brewer is ideally suited to headline this night of music and insight into Montgomery’s legacy. Here’s what he told me regarding Montgomery when “Groovin’ Wes” was released.
Question: It's an obvious jumping-off point, perhaps, but at what age did you first hear Wes' work and what was that initial experience like?
Brewer: I started playing music at the age of 9 years old, but initially played woodwinds. I started playing guitar as a teen because I idolized Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc. I went to college as a woodwind major, but heard jazz guitar for the first time and fell in love. It was at that time, around the age of 18-19, that I first discovered Wes Montgomery. The album "Boss Guitar" was the first CD I bought and I listened to it non-stops for months on end. Wes changed my perspective on what jazz guitar was and could be.
Question: Compare and contrast, if you will, how your style differs from Wes'. How difficult or not so difficult was it to blend the two when it came to recording "Groovin' Wes"?
Brewer: I was quoted on the outside cover of the "Groovin’ Wes" as saying, “Lots of guitarists can imitate Wes Montgomery, I want to pay tribute to him with my own voice.” For me, that is the bottom line. I don't spend my time trying to sound like Wes Montgomery. I listen, transcribe and try to soak up the essence of his sound and then I let my guitar voice come out unfettered. The point of jazz is, ultimately, to create your own voice, sound, style. Listening to the masters is a part of that, but Wes listened to Charlie Christian and didn’t try to become him … that's my take on Wes and my style. Wes played with his thumb only and, although I do play fingerstyle, I use all four fingers on the right hand. There is a roundness, a fullness to both of our sounds because of this, which is a likeness. But from a harmonic standpoint, Wes took jazz guitar to such heights and I spend every day trying to get there and maybe hit some other places along the way.
Question: Wes' time in the spotlight was short -- barely a decade -- and fans remain split over his discography, some favoring his early Riverside work ("The Incredible Jazz Guitar...," "Full House") while others praise his string-laden output for Verve and A&M ("Bumpin," “Road Song"). What's your take on these two very distinct phases of Wes' career?
Brewer: Well, money and fame was quite a deciding factor in those decisions for Wes. He had six or seven kids to feed. And only now, in this day of smooth jazz, is it so much of an issue. Back then, smooth jazz didn't exist -- it was guys just playing music and trying to make a living doing so. Also, there are many layers to everyone in the world. Wes was not only a bebop player, as the purists would believe, nor was he strictly a soul-jazz/pop player. I am fortunate to make my living playing jazz, but I grew up playing (and continue to play) R&B, funk, rock, country, etc. The listening audience may know me as a jazz player, but it's not the sum of who I am as a musician, it's only a part. Most musicians have other loves, passions within the music realm and most of us, if we had the opportunity, would take a paycheck to keep making music of other styles. It's only in hindsight that we look back with a judgmental eye as to what was "true" or "real.” But even Wes said, “It's impossible for me to feel like there's only one way to do a thing. There's nothing wrong with having one way of doing it, but I think it's a bad habit. I believe in range."
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