(Mar. 6, 1923-June 15, 1968). Born John Leslie Montgomery in Indianapolis, Montgomery took up the guitar in 1943, joining the Lionel Hampton Big Band in 1948 for a two-year stint of touring and recording.

Returning to Indianapolis, he made a name playing in clubs on Indiana Avenue with his brothers Monk (William Howard (Monk) Montgomery) and Buddy, making his first recording, The Wes Montgomery Trio, for Riverside in 1959. Four more Riverside albums and a brief sojourn in San Francisco established his primacy among jazz aficionados; his 1965 Verve album, Goin’ Out Of My Head, won a Grammy Award, and his next album, A Day In The Life (A&M Records), was the bestselling jazz LP of 1967.

Considered by critics as the most influential jazz guitarist since jazz guitar pioneer Charlie Christian, Montgomery developed a unique right-hand “thumbing” style that allowed him to use his fingers for a seemingly infinite variety of melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and timbrel embellishments. Montgomery died in his home of a heart attack just before he was to depart on a tour of Japan.

In 1972 Indy Parks & Recreation dedicated a park in honor of the late jazz guitarist. Wes Montgomery park sits in the northwest corner of Warren Township at 3501 N. Hawthorne Lane.

Starting in summer 1987, Montgomery’s life and music were celebrated with an annual Wes Montgomery Jazz Fest. The event took place at Washington Park and on the Canal Walk downtown. Although this festival was discontinued sometime in the 2000s, Indy Jazz Fest commemorated his life with a “Wes Montgomery Tribute Day” in 2016. Plans are in the works for a documentary film about Montgomery’s life with an anticipated release date of 2023.

Revised March 2021

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