See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription

Wes Montgomery's Solo on:

"UNIT 7"(Sam Jones)
    Firstly, allow me to wish you all a most Happy New Year 2004!!! And, there can't be a much better way to commence the new year than with one of Wes Montgomery's most well-known solos. It appeared on his 'live' recording, "SMOKIN' AT THE HALF NOTE"(Verve), with the Wynton Kelly Trio, which included jazz legends: Paul Chambers(Ac. Bass) and Jimmy Cobb(Drums). Many consider this to be Wes' finest recording during the later years of his incredible career.
SMOKIN' AT THE HALF NOTE     When I was considerably younger and guilty of some serious 'hero worship' where Wes was concerned, this was one of my favorite LPs too. For me, however, I was always fascinated by Wes' own composition "Four on Six" and couldn't get enough versions of that tune. In a curious way, the composition, "Unit 7" by famed bassist, Sam Jones, could easily be a distant 'cousin' of Wes' tune. They are both deeply rooted in the blues, and even make the same changes for the first 7 bars. But, after that, the similarities fade. As usual, this particular transcription came about because the solo fascinated a student of mine and so, in order to help him out, I decided to do the transcription, though I stopped as the choruses of octaves with chordal punctuations began.
    As a composition, "Unit 7" is really interesting, because it is essentially a 'blues with a bridge.' But, more than this, it is presented in an A-A-B-A format. So, with each chorus, you have actually played 3 choruses of blues, and a bridge. As I listened to this tune with greater care than I had ever done as a youngster, I was struck by the fact that Wes' harmonic accompaniment of Wynton Kelly's solo reveals a different set of changes than those he actually employs with his lines during his own solo. For example, behind Wynton Kelly: in bar 8, Wes plays Bbm7-Eb7; and, in bar 10, you can clearly hear Wes playing the 'guide tones'(Gb-Cb to F-Cb) for Abm7-Db7. When he is soloing himself, Wes' lines indicate that he just continues playing over Gm7-C7 in bar 8, though he often anticipates the arrival of the Abmaj7 chord. Then, in bar 10, it is obvious that Wes hears this bar as a G7(alt.) chord; though you could easily say that a Db7(b5) chord is simply the b5 substitute for G7. You should be able to hear this yourself, but the now written notes reveal this as well. It has more of an altered-7th chord feeling in the lines than a strictly Ab Dorian sense, which his chords might have indicated. When Wes begins to solo in chords however, you can again hear the return of Abm7-Db7. It's really fascinating. And, it almost makes one think that he and Wynton might not have had many detailed discussions about just how they were going to approach those bars. Of course, I'm only speculating. I think that it's also important to point out that, though this is, in essence, a blues in C7, the last cadence in each [A] section at bar 11 is to a Cmaj7. And, more often than not, you can see the inclusion of a B-natural in Wes' lines.
    The solo itself is marked by Wes' consistently wonderful sense of swing and grace. He always sounds so completely relaxed and at ease when playing. Speaking as one who went to see him play on countless occasions, I can tell you that this is exactly what he looked like when playing too. It was always remarkable to witness. When one is playing a blues and the accompaniment is going to begin with the sense of the "iim7"(Gm7) played before the actual I7(C7) chord(in this particular blues), you would know that there would be a greater sense of 'lushness' to the sonority. And so, in almost every letter [A] you can see that Wes plays a Bb triad, and in two cases, this followed by a Gm triad as well. You can view this in the first two bars of these sections but also in bar 7 of both [A] and [A2] of Chorus [1]. By doing this he is going right for the 'pretty notes' in the sonority by playing the 7th, the 9th, and the 11th(sus4). It is lines like this which probably separate the approach of someone with a jazz-oriented background from a more blues-oriented player. Not better or worse, just different!
    Even though Wes Montgomery always seems to favor the usage of the color tones, the language of the blues is never absent from his solos. If you're a fan of this aspect of his playing, check out Chorus [1]: bars 7-8 of [A]; bars 7-8; and 11 of [A3]. In Chorus [2]: bars 4-7 of [A2]; bar 8 of [B] through bar 7 of [A3].
    With Wes, it's always worth taking a look at how he treats bar 4 in any particular [A] section. In [A2] of Chorus [1], at bar 4, you can see that, for an instant during the 1st half of the bar, he brushes past the b5 substitute, which would be F#7/Gb7, and then, he employs notes from a C whole-tone scale descending to a resolution of Eb as we arrive at bar 5 and F7 chord. It seems that in the 1st half of the bar, I was spelling the notes in terms of F#7, so this might help to explain any prior confusion. This same transition is used again in [A3] of that chorus. In Chorus [2], his approach to the arrival of bar 5 in the various [A] sections is either done as an anticipation of the chord/mode to come, or by playing the blues as the change approaches. When one is approaching a blues from a modal perspective, the change which occurs at bar 5, if one views this as if you are coming from a C Mixolydian(C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb) for the C7(I7) chord, and then changing to F7(IV) and making the shift to C Dorian(C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb); it's easy to see that you are only changing ONE NOTE!!! E-natural becomes Eb. So, when bars 5-6 arrive, you have to believe that the player is going to pass over an Eb at some point to 'observe' this change in harmony. When you study this solo, you can see that each time, Wes passed over an Eb during some moment of those bars in each [A] section!
    There are also some wonderful examples of 'long lines' Wes played during this solo. You might want to spend some time looking at in Chorus [1]: bars 9-12 of [A]; bar 6 of [B] through bar 3 of [A3]. In Chorus [2]: bar 4 of [A2] through bar 1 of [B]; and, for that matter, all of [B]. And though it could be considered as part of a 'long line,' at the top of Chorus [2], Wes tips his hat to the great Sonny Rollins by rhythmically quoting "Pent-Up House," which is a Rollins classic! This is also part of the greater jazz tradition that, often times, over a similar set of changes, players will refer to a "standard" from the 'pop' or 'jazz' literature.
    Perhaps this is a good moment to take a closer look at how Wes treats improvising over the changes to [B]. In essence, what we have here is one version of a classic 'turnaround' by going from iim7-V7-iiim7-VI7(alt.). In both choruses, Wes seems to place an emphasis on the note 'E'(the 9th of Dm7). In essence, you could say that the soloing is very diatonic, in the key of C major, but when the VI7(alt.) chord arrives, Wes always makes certain to introduce C#, the 3rd of the A7 chord. For those of you who are still coming to terms with the 'language of jazz' and the structure and formation of jazz lines, you might want to pay special attention to how Wes approaches the movement of the chords between iiim7[Em7]-VI7(alt.)[A7(alt.)]-iim7[Dm7]. Almost without fail, one would expect to see the appearance of the 3rd(C#) and the b9(Bb) each time that the A7(alt.) chord arrived. In each case here, Wes employs one or both of them. In Chorus [1]: bars: 12 of [A2]; bars 4 and 7 of [B]. In Chorus [2]: bars: 4 and 7 of [B] again. In my view, usually when you are seeing both the 3rd and the b9, the player is employing a scheme which implies D harmonic minor(D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C#) even though it is passing over the dominant leading to it! The key is to not place too much emphasis on the note 'D' which is the root of the chord to which you are headed!
    As the transcription comes to a close, but the solo continued, Wes begins another most musical device of his during Chorus [3]. He plays small, but crisp phrases in octaves, and then answers them with chordal punctuations. As he's just beginning this portion of the solo, the chordal voicing, a very common Gm7 form, is in the lower register of our instrument. I believe that this was Wes' way of using the guitar as if it were a "big band." So, the octaves might represent the saxophone section, and, at this moment, I would say that the lower Gm7 voicing would be played by the trombones. If he continued in this vein and the chord voicings began to rise in register, they would become much more like a trumpet section. In short, it was a tremendously orchestral way of using the guitar. And with Wes' touch, his sound and feel, the effect was always spectacular!!!
    And so, here at KHAN'S KORNER we're off to another flying start for a new year. We thank everyone for their visits to the site, for all the e-mails, and the Guestbook entries. We appreciate your kind words very, very much!!! Wishing everyone the best of everything in 2004!!!

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