St. Germain Street

“St. Germain Street”
(Written by Reynold Philipsek, 2012 copyright)
all instruments by Reynold, except drums by Michael Bissonnette

June 15, 2018 marked 50 years since the untimely death of Jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery.

Summer always puts me in a Wes Montgomery mood. I associate his sunny disposition with this season, and definitely with a certain period of my life. I was 14 years old in 1967 and had just joined the Musician Union. I was playing somewhere between 70-80 gigs a year by the time 1968 rolled around.

At that time, my parents bought a new stereo. One of the stereo demonstration records that came with the stereo was “Down Here On The Ground” by Wes Montgomery. I immediately loved that album and it still has an almost “Proustian” hold on me in that it can, upon even a cursory listen, bring me back to my early teen years. Certain Bacharach songs can do this to me as well.

I didn’t know it at the time, but these later Wes records, that were produced by Creed Taylor, were considered “a bit less of” in terms of pure jazz, although they were very commercially popular. Still, I love these records. It would be a few years later until I discovered the early records by Wes on the Riverside label that were produced by the legendary Orrin Keepnews. (Ironically, I would eventually become good friends with Orrin’s son Peter Keepnews and his wife Irene Trudel.)

“Down Here On The Ground” has a certain magic to it which is created by how incredibly poignant Wes could be in a very minimalistic way. The arrangements by Don Sebesky had a magic to them as well. The fact Grady Tate, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock were the rhythm section helps as well.

A couple of years ago I read an interview with Pat Metheny where he mentions “Down Here On The Ground” was a favorite album by Wes for him, too. I felt somewhat vindicated by this opinion. Pat Metheny and I are of roughly the same vintage and there is no contemporary of mine I respect more as a musician.

In 2012, I put together an album called “Last Summer” which was intended to be my venture into recasting some of these memories of that time, place, and magical ambiance.

With the song “St. Germain Street,” I probably came the closest to this feeling.

St. Germain Street is the Main Street of my old hometown and is associated very deeply with my early teen summers. When this album came out, I sent a copy to Don Sebesky and told him how much his lush and magical soundscapes on the Montgomery records still haunt me. He was very appreciative. I was glad to make this connection.

So in the summer of 2018, I am revisiting my Wes collection and of course it will include repeated listens to not only the early and classic Riverside tracks, but the later records like “Down Here On The Ground” as well.


My opinion (guitar improv)

I certainly don’t intend to get anyone riled up but I want to vent on a topic I have given a lot of thought to.

In the realm of jazz guitar (and almost especially in the realm of gypsy jazz) it seems that some soloists think that simply stitching a series of well-executed prepared licks together constitutes a good “improvised” solo.¬† I admit that I have been guilty of this approach myself but I never felt fulfilled by it.

Everyone relies on licks and devices to some extent but as we mature as improvising musicians I think it is a natural evolution to want to get closer to creating music in the moment. When you listen to Wes, Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, Bireli Lagrene, Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Miles Davis and Jim Hall you can sense and hear that they are creating¬†“in the moment” a good deal of the time. Yes, they fall back on their grab bag of stuff once in a while but, for the most part, they are forging on into new territory.

It may be hard for people who don’t spend their whole life thinking about these things to distinguish between the two approaches. I only know where I want to go and if I have to sacrifice a little “dazzle” to get to a better musical moment I will not hesitate to chose the more “in the moment” path.

I welcome comments.