Smokin' at the Half Note

Wynton Kelly Trio & Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ at the Half Note

A couple of weeks ago I read an interview with Pat Metheny. I might have been an older one, but he said that ‘Smokin’ at the Half Note’ is the best jazz guitar album, in his opinion. That made me curious, so I downloaded the album on iTunes. I didn’t even make it half way through ‘Unit 7’ when I had decided to go on Discogs and get the 1966 release in Mono. Here are the details:

Wynton Kelly Trio / Wes Montgomery ‎– Smokin’ At The Half Note

Label: Verve Records ‎– V-8633
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono 
Country: US
Released: 1966
Genre: Jazz
Style: Post Bop, Hard Bop
Vinyl: NM
Sleeve: VG

The record swings like mad and Wes is playing in a different universe. But as always, you need your rhythm section’s support and they sure came together that night. Crazy energy, uptempo excursions, but always in the spirit of the song. While ‘Smokin at the Half Note’ is certainly testament to Cobb’s, Chamber’s, Kelly’s and Montgomery’s musicianship as individuals, they play as a unit. Ultra tight.

Here are Chuck Taylor’s liner notes:

In July, 1965, guitarist Wes Montgomery joined the Wynton Kelly Trio as an extra added attraction for the purpose of performing in the top jazz clubs and concert halls throughout the United States. One of their first performances together was at the Newport Jazz Festival where they received a standing ovation. It was then quite evident that the combination of Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly trio, featuring Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, would be well accepted by the jazz audiences throughout the country.

The name Wes Montgomery is synonymous with jazz guitar. Wes has won a great many of the jazz polls in downbeat magazine and also in Playboy’s Annual Jazz Poll. Wes’ unique way of playing guitar with his thumb, instead of using a pick like most guitarists, has brought many comments from fans and critics alike. When Wes appears in a club, the local guitar players usually show up for “their lessons” and they all rave about the incredible Wes Montgomery. As it is well known, Wes’ favorite guitarists was the great Charlie Christian, who was the father of The Modern Day guitarist. Wes is a self-taught musician and it is quite obvious that he was an excellent teacher and student.

Smokin' at the Half Note
Smoking at the Half Note – Wynton Kelly Trio @ Wes Montgomery

Wyton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers made up one of Miles Davis’ top rhythm sections a couple of years back. Wynton is undoubtedly one of the finest pianists in jazz today. He has played with some of the greatest musicians in jazz history such as Lester Young, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and of course, Miles Davis. Wynton has grown tremendously in stature since he decided to form his own trio, and he was indeed fortunate to have been able to include Jimmy and Paul in his group, for as it is known, they were the foundation on which Miles Davis was able to build.

Paul Chambers, for many years, has been one of the leading bassists in the country. His phenomenal technique and ability to improvise both pizzicato and especially with the bow has won him more acclaim than any other young bassist around today .

The 3rd member of the trio, Jimmy Cobb, needs no introduction to anyone who has followed jazz. His ability as a drummer is unquestionable. To list the top jazz musicians Jimmy has performed with would would read like a ‘Who’s Who’ in jazz.

His album was recorded live at the Half Note Club in New York City before a very enthusiastic audience. The first tune entitled ‘No Blues’ was written by Miles Davis. This tune was first recorded by Miles Davis however, Wes Montgomery’s solo lends knew excitement to the tune. As you will note, Wynton stops playing because he was so carried away with Wes’ solo that he turned around just to watch Wes. You would have to see Wes play in person to understand why Wynton was so carried away by Wes’ solo. Wes, in all his modesty, just beams with personality and I believe that you can feel that personality in his playing.

Just listen to the beautiful mood created by Wes and the trio on Tadd Dameron’s composition entitled ‘If you could see me now.’ Sometimes I can’t find the superlatives or adjectives to describe a beautiful musical experience, so just listen for I’m sure you’ll get the message.

Liner Notes by Chuck Taylor: Smokin at the Half Note, Wynton Kelly Trio, Wes Montgomery

Sam Jones, famed bassist with the Julian Cannonball Adderley Quintet, penned the next composition which he titled ‘Unit 7.’ Wes once again demonstrates his fantastic ability as the country’s top jazz guitarist ably assisted by Wynton, Jimmy and Paul. ‘Four on Six’ is an original composition written by Wes in which each member is able to stretch out a bit. The final tune in the album is the evergreen ‘What’s New.’ Here again, it is quite obvious that Wes and Wynton complement each other to a fantastic degree.

The teaming of four excellent musicians, performing before a very enthusiastic audience in one of New York’s top jazz clubs, could only produce some excellent results. I think this album is a good indication of what I mean.

Prior to writing the notes for this album, I ran into Jean “Toots” Thieleman, composer of ‘Bluesette’, the now famous jazz standard, and I told him about this album which was just recorded. His comment was, “That session should have really burned.” Little did he know how right he was for what it was really “Smokin’ “… hence the title of this album. Wynton and Wes both are delighted to be on the stand with each other and within the group there is a great deal of respect for the musicianship of each of the men. I could go on and on talking about Wynton and Wes but I feel it is best that this album will speak for itself. So sit back, light up a cigarette and start ‘Smokin’.

Notes by Chuck Taylor.

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