Wes Gets Royal Treatment


Harold Mabern (from left), Wes Montgomery, Arthur Harper and Jimmy Lovelace perform at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, France on March 27, 1965.

(Photo: Jean-Pierre Leloir)

Guitarist Wes Montgomery’s legendary 1965 concert in Paris has been released under many titles, yet it had never been legally released until recently. The previous issues were taped off the French public-radio broadcast and sold without securing the copyright to the material and without paying the artists and engineers involved. As a result, Resonance Records rightfully proclaims that its two-disc set, In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording, is the first official release of the music.

As such, it’s a great example of the not-for-profit label’s mission: to create high-quality packages of neglected or misused jazz history by securing copyrights, working from the original tapes, documenting the context in extensive liner notes and paying royalties to the artists or their surviving family members.

“This concert came three years after the famous Full House live album, which also featured Johnny Griffin,” said producer Zev Feldman. “This is the period when Wes was at the height of his powers, right at the beginning of his Verve years. I told my boss that it’s risky to release something that’s been so widely bootlegged, but it’s one of the greatest Wes performances of all time and it deserves to have an official release that pays all the royalties.”

The music on In Paris is impressive. Montgomery’s rapid alternation of chords and single-note runs, always bluesy and melodic, pushes to the limits the musicians accompanying him: 19-year-old pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Arthur Harper, drummer Jimmy Lovelace and, on three tunes, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who was based in France at the time. The rhythm section handles the challenges amazingly well, especially considering they’d played less than a dozen dates before joining the fearful-of-flying Montgomery on his one-and-only trip overseas.

The concert occurred just before Montgomery began emphasizing jazz arrangements of ’60s pop tunes. The Paris program features five originals by the guitarist, two Tin Pan Alley numbers and compositions by Mabern, Coltrane, Monk and Gillespie. The band takes advantage of the challenging material to stretch out with longer solos than Montgomery ever allowed in the studio.

The Resonance version of the concert not only corrects the mistaken titles on the bootlegs (which listed “Jingles” as “Mr. Walker,” for example, and “The Girl Next Door” as “To Django”) but also improves the sound markedly by creating a transfer from the original tapes at Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française. The 32-page booklet includes contemporary pictures from French photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir, commentary from Mabern, Montgomery acolyte Russell Malone, jazz historian Vincent Pelote and French producer Pascal Rozat, as well as a selection of 10 album covers from bootleg versions.

Resonance also works with active artists, such as British singer Polly Gibbons, American violinist Christian Howes and Swedish guitarist Andreas Oberg, but it has made its biggest impact in releasing historical recordings by the likes of John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Larry Young and Jaco Pastorius. The label has put out three packages of previously unreleased Bill Evans music. George Klabin, the owner of Resonance, has encouraged Feldman, the label’s vice president, to track down archival material worth releasing.

“Back in 2010,” Feldman recalled, “I got some tapes from [producer] Michael Cuscuna of Wes playing small clubs in Indiana before he released his debut album. It was so good I knew we had to put it out, but first I had to reach out to Wes’ family. His son Robert called me back while I was sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store, and I stayed on the line for an hour. I told him how passionate I was about his father and what his music meant to me. He said, ‘That sounds good to me.’ He was looking for respect, to have the music presented the best way possible. He wanted the record company to care.”

When Resonance put out Echoes Of Indiana Avenue in 2012, it was the first issue of unreleased Montgomery music since 1969. “Lo and behold,” Feldman explained, “we sold 30,000 copies. Suddenly people were asking, ‘Who is this Resonance label?’” It was soon followed by four more Montgomery titles: In the Beginning, One Night In Indy, Smokin’ In Seattle and now In Paris. Because Resonance kept its promises on the first reissue, the Montgomery estate was willing to keep working with the label. The same thing happened with the Evans estate.

Resonance has planned future albums of previously unreleased material by Grant Green (1935–’79) and Eric Dolphy (1928–’64).

“I travel the world for this label,” Feldman said. “A lot of my time is [devoted to] acquisitions, combing through tapes to see what’s there. Now they’re calling me the ‘Indiana Jones of Jazz’ and the ‘Jazz Detective.’ A lot of the best stuff is in Europe, because the public radio and television offices there made a point of documenting this music. That’s the difference not only between Europe and America but also between public and corporate media. It’s exciting what we’re finding. But you just can’t put it out; you have to clear the rights. We find the musicians and we pay them. It’s disgusting when records come out and the artists don’t get paid anything.” DB

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