See Steve's Hand-Written Solo transcription
chord solo on:
On this Creed Taylor production, Wes found himself in the rhythm section company of pianists Herbie Hancock or Roger Kellaway; bassist George Duvivier; drummer Grady Tate, and conguero Candido Camero, all with brass and woodwind orchestrations by the aforementioned, Oliver Nelson. The particular chordal passage that I have chosen to share with you does not appear in the track until about the 3:00 minute mark. For this portion of his solo, Wes is really only improvising through the [A] section and, a portion of what I would call [A2] because the form extends just where one might expect to find a [B] section. Again, this kind of free-wheeling compositional device by Antonio Carlos Jobim is exactly why his music is so revered around the world. As the extended portion of [A2] arrives at bar 32, Wes returns to octaves to state that portion of the closing melody. So, the actual chord solo really doesn't reach a full chorus.
My discussion of just what Wes was doing when he improvised with chords is going to be, from this point forward, very 'guitar-centric' and perhaps not of great appeal to those who play other instruments. Compared to the piano, the guitar, when played in this older, more traditional style, can seem rather simple, almost primitive. But, whether that is one's perspective or not, for guitarists of all ages it is more than worth the time for study, analysis, and personal practice and execution. It is also important to remember that, more than likely, Wes was thrown into recording situations like this mostly without a great deal of time to prepare. So, as it is so important for any artist to feel comfortable, while under the spotlight and microscope of contemporary recording, he will probably resort to playing, at times, what is most familiar and easy for him to execute in a melodic way.
The chord solo begins with one of my favorite Montgomery-esque devices, one which can easily be overlooked or taken for granted. If you just study bar 1, you can see that he is playing one of his oft-used voicings for any minor 7 chord with the 5th on top, on the high E-string, and he is answering that sonority with a voicing which also offers the 5th on top but one octave lower. I came to view this device as Wes' way of using the guitar as his own personal "Big Band." In other words, the higher register voicings performed the function of the trumpets in the brass section, and the lower register voicings could be considered as having the quality of some trombones, or a mixture of trombones and woodwinds. If you think of it in these terms, it's really brilliant! When he arrives at the C7 chord, our V7, to resolve to Fmaj7, he colors the sound with a voicing that adds 13b9, and in the last portion of bar 2, you see that he uses a very simple diminished voicing which, in most cases, should really be considered as part of a 7b9 chord. Here, that would be C7(b9). This was very typical for Wes Montgomery. As he resolves to the Fmaj7 chord, he utilizes the same fingering as the one he played in the upper register for Gm7. Here that fingering moves up a whole-step and now has E-natural on top(the major 7th). He punctuates that phrase with a voicing which we would call Fmaj7(9) with the 5th on top, C-natural. Some of you might look at this particular voicing and say: "Well, I use that as Am7." Of course, it features exactly the same notes, spelling up: A-E-G-C. But, with F as the root, everything changes! As the D7(alt.) arrives to turn us around and back to the iim7 chord, Wes puts to use another device, very typical of his playing, where he outlines a D7(b9) descending arpeggio(A-F#-Eb) with the same voicing configuration using the top 4-strings, and finishing it off using the inside 4-strings and the diminished voicing configuration that you should expect to see.
During the 2nd 4-bar phrase in [A], Wes paraphrases what he played in bar 1 in bar 5 with a reversal of the register displacement. This time it is low voicing to high. In the tune "Once I Loved" you will often see lead sheets tell you that the following chord in bar 6 is G#°7 chord. But, this is incorrect! Yes, if a guitarist was accompanying a singer or a linear melody instrument you might want to indicate this movement in the bass. But, the real chord should be thought of as E7(b9)/G# because it is going to resolve to Am7. It really is just sound, basic music theory. Once again, Wes uses a sequence of ascending diminished voicings, but this time, he employs them in more of a scale passage. The accentuated points come on the root(D), #9(F), b5(Ab), and the 7th(C). The last 4 16th-notes of bar 6 ascend perfectly to resolve on the same voicing that he used for Fmaj7 with the maj7th on top. But now, as the chord is Am7, that voicing is to viewed as just that, Am7! However, what is most puzzling is that the final voicing in bar 7 is Fmaj7. Yes, that's what Wes plays, and I am at a loss to explain it, because it sounds fine - perhaps because the lowest voice is masked because of its register. In other words, you barely hear the F-natural from his A-string. To complicate matters even further, Wes then plays a voicing which we guitarists might readily label as Dm7(9)/A with 'E' on top(on the B-string) - again, the chord is still Am7. One could go on to argue about the fact that Fmaj7, Dm7(9), and Am7 all have so many notes in common. But, generally speaking, an F-natural rarely belongs in an Am7 chordal passage!
Bars 9-11 offer, what I feel, is the most spectacular and 'classic' Wes Montgomery chord treatment of a iim7-V7-Imaj passage. Here, "Once I Loved" has moved down a whole-step and the progression becomes Fm7-Bb7(alt.)-Ebmaj7. Firstly, at the end of bar 8, Wes anticipates the arrival of Fm7 by attacking his favorite voicing, with the 5th on top, by sliding into it from a half-step below. From there, you can see that his target note is the high 'G'(the 9th of Fm7) on the E-string. So, in order to arrive there, he vaults from the voicing with the 5th on top(C) to a voicing with the 7th on top(Eb) before hitting Fm7(9) with the most traditional of m9 chord voicings on our instrument. Then, he descends beautifully in a scale-type passage by passing from G-F-Eb-D-C-Cb before resolving to Ebmaj7 with Bb on top. But, I think that it is most important now to give you the theoretical basis for each chord color. We've already addressed the Fm9 with G on top. With F as the top note, Wes plays a simple, very traditional, Bb7(9) voicing. Then, with Eb on top, he employs a diminished voicing. Perhaps the best theoretical explanation of this is that it could be considered as part of F7(b9) which would be a V7-V7 pulling towards the Bb7 chord. From there, he plays Bb7 with the 3rd on top(D). Then Bb7(9/13) with the 9th on top(C), and finally Bb7(#5b9) with the b9(Cb) on top. When he resolves to Ebmaj7, once again he employs what will look like a Gm7 voicing(w/ the 3rd on top), but here, it is just an Ebmaj7(9) with the 5th on top(Bb). The last great touch is a simple Ebmaj7 4-note voicing with the root, Eb, on his A-string. But, before he's done, he employs one last hint of Bb7(b9) by playing a diminished voicing with D as the root on your A-string. It is a wonderful example of applied harmony after the chord has already changed. If I wanted to understand Wes Montgomery, I would play this entire passage, over and over, and over again until it was mastered and effortless. No doubt, that's what Wes did during all those years in Indianapolis. in bar 12, as the Ebmaj7 carries over, he plays a very low register Ebmaj6/9 over Bb with a C on the G-string as his top note. As low and dark sounding as it is, it sounds wonderful, and much more modern!
Bars 13-15 of [A] present another classic ii-V device. However, thanks to Maestro Jobim, we have a twist on the ii-V to major that one might expect and here he gives us iim7b5-V7-Imaj7 - specifically, Em7b5-A7(alt.)-Dmaj7. Normally, when you see such a ii-V you would be expecting this one to resolve to Dm7. So, what does Wes do now? He begins with yet another most traditional guitar voicing for Em7b5 with the b5(Bb) on top, but here he plays with a bit more rhythmic activity than before. At the end of this bar, on the and-of-four, he plays a Bbm7 voicing with F on top, and then in bar 14, he moves to an Eb7(9) voicing with Bb on top. Finally, as this is, after all, an A7(alt.) bar, he plays an A7(#5#9) voicing with C(#9) on top, eventually pulling the C down to Bb(b9) before resolving to Dmaj7(9). Again, using the voicing you might have thought of as F#m7 with the m3rd on top. So, what was Wes thinking about here? Remember, that Eb7 is the b5 substitute for A7, so Wes is just putting a iim7 chord(Bbm7) in front of it and heading to resolving via that route. It is, as we've discussed on countless occasions at these pages, a most tried and true harmonic device. As Dmaj7 becomes D7(alt.) to turn us around and back to Gm7 for the beginning of [A2], Wes again uses his diminished voicings, as part of D7(b9), to ascend in another scale-type passage with points of accentuation of the chord tones: F#(3rd)-A(5th)-C(7th)-Eb(b9). The point of resolution drops us down to D-natural, the 5th of Gm7 and the same voicing on which we started 16 bars earlier!
As [A2] moves forward, in bar 2 of this section, over the C7 chord, he puts to use a C7(9/13) voicing with 'D' as the top voice, again, this is a very common guitar voicing. However, he moves to C7(#5) voicing with 'E' as the top voice, and that 3rd of the chord is doubled inside. This is not a usual voicing on the guitar, and Classical purists would frown upon the double 3rd! From here, he drops back down to the Fmaj7(9) chord, which again, is like your garden variety Am7 with the m3rd on top. In the 4th bar of this section, we have another vintage Montgomery passage over D7(b9) using all diminished voicings and descending in minor 3rds with the top voice moving from Eb-C-A-F#. But, what makes this all even nicer is that, instead of playing one last diminished voicing using the 4 'inside' strings with Eb as the top voice, Wes plays an Abm7(with Eb on top) and then resolves down to Gm7(with D on top). Yes, it seems so simple, but it's a wonderful touch. In bar 5, he goes up to a Bb in the top voice using our most familiar Gm7 voicing. This is followed by a C°7 voicing which, as I tried to explain before is probably really a part of D7(b9) to resolve to his usual Gm7 voicing with 'D' as the top voice. Bar 6, over the E7(b9)/G# chord see Wes ascending again and using a diminished scale passage accentuating the scale tones: G(#9)-B(5th)-D(7th)-F(b9). When he resolves up to a high 'E' for the Am7 chord, Wes, once again, plays a melody in chords with the top voice moving down from E-C-A. And the voicing with 'A' on top is that same Fmaj7 voicing. To hammer the point home, our chord there is still Am7. Then, during bar 8, he does something even more strange, he plays a little response phrase with the top voice only as high as his G-string - and he's playing a movement that takes him from Fmaj7-Gm7-Am7 and back down again - all over Am7! For bars 9-12, when the ii-V to Ebmaj7 returns, he uses some very basic Fm7 chord formations coming down from Fm7(9) with 'G' on top(and here Wes has a low C in the bass) to Fm7 with 'Eb' on top - again on the B-string. And finally landing on Fm7, in the most traditional guitar-oriented root position down on the 1st fret. With 'C' as his top voice there, he vaults up the octave to a Bb7(9/13) chord with 'C' on top on the high E-string. But then, to create some tension, he puts to use a very nice Bb7(13b9) chord with 'G' on top before resolving up to our Ebmaj7(9) chord with Bb on top, and that goes up to yet another chord tone, the major 7th. Once again, that voicing, as played on the guitar, is fingered exactly the same as what Wes had been using for Gm7 with 'D' on top! To close out this passage, he restates the punctuations over the extra bar of Ebmaj7 with that same Ebmaj6/9 voicing over a low Bb on the guitar.
As this particular chord solo begins to wind down during bars 13-15, the tune moves through the m7b5-V7(alt.)-Imaj7 in D major, just as before. The same voicing for Em7b5 with Bb on the top is played in bar 13. But, over the A7(alt.) bar, bar 14, Wes first uses a full sounding A7(#5b9) voicing before moving to what I'm going to label as, for the guitarists visiting, an Eb7(9/13)/Bb with C(#9 of A7) as the top note. This type of voicing is fairly particular to Wes Montgomery because in playing it he has both the Eb(from his A-string) and the Bb(on his low E-string) in play. Most of us never would play this chord in this manner. This resolves to an Eb7(9), played in the traditional way with Bb on top, and resolving to Dmaj7(9) with 'A' on top. The final chord voicing played, as he slides down off of it, is a very average Dmaj7 voicing with F# on top on the B-string.
With the solo now completed, Wes Montgomery shifts to his patented octaves to deliver the final melodic passages over the extended length of [A2]. Against the octaves, Oliver Nelson supports him with a bass trombone marking the rhythm of the acoustic bass part and the melodic guitar phrases are answered by light woodwinds with a flute as the top voice. All this is in sharp contrast to the more dense textures which have been presented before. The very last chord played by the orchestra brings with it the full compliment of colors: winds and brass together. The final chord is held while Wes improvises a most romantic cadenza.
It is my great hope that, by making this chord solo transcription available here, the multitude of guitarists looking to improve and broaden their chordal knowledge can break these passages down and begin to put them to use in their own playing. I am not, in any way, shape or form, advocating that anyone copies these voicings or this Wes Montgomery voicing style. But, from a historical perspective, and for anyone's desire of wanting to work towards some form of comprehensive mastery of the instrument as a Jazz voice, you can't have been handed a better set of tools. So, as I always seem to say, take things slow-ly, break things down into small units that can be accomplished. And, in the end, you will reap the benefits of having the full project assimilated into your consciousness!!! I've seen it happen before, and it will can easily again and for you! Keep a small and short focus for the best results!!!
In looking at that most beautiful photo of Wes and his Gibson L-5 Custom, has there ever been a more beautiful set of hands to grace the instrument? Seeing this particular photo, I just don't see how anyone's hands could look more artistic or wonderful!
[Photos: Wes Montgomery's hands on his Gibson L-5, and Oliver Nelson
Photos by: Chuck Stewart]