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December 9, 2019
Fret Burns: Wes Montgomery and Me PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 31 March 2008 09:04
karl.jpgBy Karl Greenberg - Guitar Jam Daily
I was in Detroit for the North American Auto Show, circa 2005. These conventions are surrounded by a satellite network of parties, dinners, performances, drink-fests. Well, turns out Nissan's chief designer (and sax player so I hear) Shiro Nakamura is a good friend of Herbie Hancock. Nissan, which was introducing the redesigned Infiniti M45 sedan feted all the reporters to a party one night at the Detroit Tigers' stadium, in the clubhouse there, for dinner, cigars, free expensive booze and a performance by Hancock. We also got Hancock's new CD which we all stood in line to have the great one sign.

My turn came, and, as he was signing it, I said, apropo of nothing - and after a few drinks - "Guess what?" And he looked up at me with an expression of deep contempt, like "What's this ofay going to tell me that I need to know?"

I said, "Wes Montgomery and I have the same birthday." He just looked at me like, "You're telling me this, why? Oh, because I'm black and so is he and we're both jazz musicians and I'm supposed to care? What am I supposed to do with that information, shove it up my butt for later use? Why do I care?"

All of which was contained, so I thought, in the simple "Really" he muttered while signing my disc.

But it's true. Wes' birthday is March 6; so is mine. When I found that out, from reading the liner notes for one of Wes' Riverside albums, I was blown away. I thought - for about five minutes - that maybe I was actually the reincarnation of Wes Montgomery, but then realized that's not possible because he was still alive when I was born. Then I thought maybe the birthday coincidence meant I was destined to actually, some day, end up a jazz guitarist, instead of a hack writer covering cars, which I don't give a shit about.

Basically, I thought the fact that he and I share a birthday had some meaning. Well, it doesn't. That was, like, three years ago, and I'm still writing about cars, and yet to have a recording contract. Anyway, at that Nissan party, Hancock looked at me as if I were some kind of white person trying to act like I had some special connection to "The Black Jazz Guitar Experience" which I probably would like to think is true. Not that I'm a "white person, etc, etc." But that I actually do have that connection.

And I do. I have that connection. And I'm not really white. I'm actually brown. Especially after hanging at the beach. I'm actually probably Arabic. My grandmother told me I'm Persian way back. I'm a Persian cat. Which is funny because Persian cats are actually white.

Anyway, I was born on Wes' birthday, I'm Persian. Why the heck can't I play guitar like Wes? Wes started playing when he was 19. So did I. Yes, by that time, most players of note already have it down and are defining themselves as artists. Wes, as is widely known, never took a lesson, he learned to play by copying every Charlie Christian solo ever recorded, over the course of eight months. I learned by copying every single Mark Farner (Grand Funk, anyone?) solo ever recorded onto air guitar over the course of eight days. But after I read that about Wes, I decided I was going to study Charlie
Christian's solos and learn them all, in eight months. That lasted two days. I couldn't do it. After a day I started to hate Charlie Christian. I had to listen to nothing but "Back in Black" for a week to get "Solo Flight" out of my head.

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