Indiana Avenue, the center of Black life and culture in Indianapolis in the first half of the 20th century was a fount of jazz music talent, including luminaries like Wes Montgomery and “Slide” Hampton. Here’s how that amazing story happened.
The first film documentary based on the life of Indianapolis music icon Wes Montgomery is scheduled to premiere in March 2023 and coincide with the 100th anniversary of the jazz guitarist’s birth.
Kevin Finch, a former TV news executive who worked at WTHR-13, WISH-8 and WRTV-6, is making the film with significant contributions from Robert Montgomery, the guitarist’s youngest son.
Robert, who was 6 years old when Wes died after suffering a heart attack in 1968, is sharing 14 reels of 8mm home movies for the film, which has a working title of “Wes Bound.” Finch’s company, Jukeboxer Productions, recently announced the documentary will premiere on Bloomington-based public television station WTIU.
Wes Montgomery (1923-1968). (Photo: File photo)
Born March 6, 1923, in Indianapolis, Wes Montgomery transformed jazz guitar thanks to a fingerpicking style initially embraced by the genre’s purists and later by the masses. The two-time Grammy Award winner influenced the work of George Benson, Jimi Hendrix and Pat Metheny.
The documentary is expected to include new interviews with Benson, fellow guitarist Lee Ritenour (who recorded a 1993 tribute album titled “Wes Bound”) and other musicians. To depict Montgomery’s life and times, Finch will make use of the previously unseen home movies.
“My dad filmed everything,” Robert said. “Wherever he went, he filmed.”
During digital transfers, the silent 8mm films have yielded images from a European tour and performances in Seattle and Minneapolis.
In November 2019, IndyStar visited a transfer session overseen by documentary co-producer Jim Hall, film specialist Roger Lippincott and Robert Montgomery in rural Madison County.
One reel revealed Montgomery’s performance at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, family members gathered at the guitarist’s home near Butler University’s campus and scenes from a church picnic at an amusement park in Lafayette.
Robert, the youngest of seven siblings, said the time is right for fans to learn more about his father’s personal life.
“People know about the music, but they don’t know about him and where the music came from,” Robert said. “It wasn’t just his style of playing; it was him as a person. When you have music that comes from the heart and the beauty of a person, then it draws you into what’s being played.”
Robert cites a 1968 ballad titled “Serene,” inspired by his mother, Serene Miles Montgomery-Woods, as an example of his father’s emotive musicianship.
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“He took all of that beautiful love and compassion and he told a story on his guitar that nobody else has been able to tell,” Robert said.
Finch interviewed Serene for the documentary before her death this April at age 96.
Robert said he has fond memories of Christmas celebrations at the family’s 44th Street home, where a green-and-gold tree dominated the living room and a white-and-red tree accented another room.
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Wes Montgomery had a tradition of assembling his seven children in a circle and shaking out silver coins from the bottom of a piggy bank.
“He said, ‘Take one hand, and whatever you can pull out is yours,’ ” Robert said.
In annual Down Beat magazine polls, Montgomery was selected as top guitarist five times in the 1960s by critics and four times by readers.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana wrote about his affection for Montgomery’s playing in 2015 memoir “The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light.”
“The tone of the electric guitar is different – no two ways about it. It gets a feminine sound – unless someone’s playing like Wes Montgomery. To me, Wes had a fatherly sound, gentle and wise, like Nat King Cole’s voice.”
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