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The late jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was born 100 years ago today

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The late jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was born 100 years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF WES MONTGOMERY'S "FOUR ON SIX")

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Recordings of Wes Montgomery inspire and even intimidate living guitar players like Mark Whitfield, who's known for his own recordings with some of the biggest names in pop and jazz.

MARK WHITFIELD: When you listen to him play, you're listening to someone who is playing the guitar in a way that no one before him played.

(SOUNDBITE OF WES MONTGOMERY'S "FOUR ON SIX")

MARTÍNEZ: Whitfield says Montgomery's distinct sound came in part from using his thumb on the guitar strings instead of a pick.

WHITFIELD: In learning to play the guitar, he plugged his guitar into the amp. He's playing, and his wife kept complaining. No matter how soft he played, it was still too loud. He was going to wake up the kids. It's interesting. He didn't turn the amp off. He wanted to play with the amp on. And he discovered that playing with his thumb gave him the ability to keep the amp on, but produced a much mellower, quieter sound.

INSKEEP: I love that they say necessity is the mother of invention and in this case it was the necessity of keeping the kids in bed. So what kind of a person was he? The music historian Ashley Kahn recalls a gentle, supportive performer whose generosity was evident in a rehearsal track in 1965.

ASHLEY KAHN: The piano player's having trouble with the chords, and the graciousness and the sort of warmth that Wes has in working out this piece, which the piano player was unfamiliar with...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WES MONTGOMERY: F minor - I'm sorry. F minor, starts off B flat.

KAHN: And he takes his time, and he slows down the tempo. Here we have Wes enjoying the company of fellow musicians and just enjoying the music itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Wes Montgomery was just 45 when he died in 1968, but Whitfield says his influence lives on on stage and in mentoring the next generation of jazz.

WHITFIELD: Wes was one who believed in unity amongst musicians and in the community. And I don't just mean the community of Black people, just in community in general, that Wes was a believer in fostering attitudes that brought people together.

(SOUNDBITE OF WES MONTGOMERY'S "THE END OF A LOVE AFFAIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.