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The Sound of the State: Remembering Wes Montgomery

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

INDIANA - When the world thinks of Jazz music, they often think of New Orleans and the infamous entertainment hubs of New York and Chicago, but did you know that the Hoosier state would be the next place to carry the tune? From Richmond, to Gary and back down to naptown's Indiana Avenue, the sound of the state can be heard through the vibrations of the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano and the black voices that echoed over those midwestern melodies. - "Indiana was not a root-source of jazz, as were New Orleans, the rural South, or the great show-business capitals of New York and Chicago. Its particular place was earned by its development of a style-its interpretation of music from other places. The style might be called, for lack of a better name-"Midwestern Jazz," predating the well-known "Chicago" style by several years. It was an authentic "hot" style, so evident in the number and variety of college bands which embraced it, beginning about 1920."

A simple glance at a map of the country is all the explanation needed for how the music of Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana influenced each other. In May of 2019, the city of Richmond booked me to come out and tell the story of their great city. That story cannot be told with talking about Gannett Records and the jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, that came through the building to record. I speak about it (with a high level of energy and enthusiasm of course) at the 6:45 mark of this video.

As the African-American community began to get settled Indianapolis after the great migration, Indiana Avenue was begin the nucleus of black culture in the city.

From the Through2Eyes article, "The Avenue: Indy's Black Heartbeat"

"Indiana's black communities began to establish themselves early, and during the 'Great Migration' of the early 20th century, many African-Americans from the south made their way up north to Indiana Avenue.

During this time period, an estimated 1.6 million people relocated from rural communities in the south to industrial cities in the north and west. This added influx of black people only pushed Indiana Avenue forward."

This mural above is located along Indiana Avenue downtown. David Young, Jimmy Coe, David Baker, JJ Johnson, Slide Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, Larry Ridley, and the man of the hour, Wes Montgomery.


There's a car obstructing the view here, but if you look to the far right of the mural above, you'll the see the only man pictured here playing a guitar. That's Wes Montgomery. Wes Montgomery is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, which is is featured in a recent project I filmed over the black schools in the IPS system.

Encyclopedia Britannica - "Wes Montgomery, byname of John Leslie Montgomery, (born March 6, 1923, Indianapolis, Ind., U.S.—died June 15, 1968, Indianapolis), black American jazz guitarist, probably the most influential postwar improviser on his instrument. Montgomery began playing guitar in his late teens and played in the Lionel Hampton band in 1948–50 and in Indianapolis during the 1950s, most often with his brothers Buddy (piano, vibes) and Monk (electric bass). In California in the late 1950s, he played with them in the Mastersounds and then as the Montgomery Brothers (1960–61).

Last Summer, I linked up with my friend Lee (@OldChurchesIndy) and we visited Montgomery's Church and got to talk with his family. They spoke about the celebrities from around the world that attended Montgomery's funeral here at this church.

A lot of Montgomery's music can be found on YouTube, including "Round Midnight", which as been viewed over 5 million times.

Take a listen, that's the sound of Indy, WE are the sound of Indy. Black history has a long presence in Indianapolis, and makes up the very fabric of the city. Six years after the founding of Indianapolis, out of the 1,066 total residents 55 were African American. There is no history of Indianapolis without Indianapolis’ vibrant and diverse Black population (Digital Indy). This is home.

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