NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Twin City Teen Shares His Passion For Jazz Guitar Legend

Jon Norton

Matthew Mullins is a 17-year-old junior at Normal Community West High School with a passion for music bordering on obsessive.  He said he devours all types of music, but especially classic rock, blues, and jazz. 

"I actually got into jazz in general from my teacher at Normal West, Mrs. (Sarah) Williams, who introduced me to jazz.  And I had a deep appreciation for jazz around sixth grade.  I listened to all the greats ... Bill Evans ... Dave Brubeck.  Then I started expanding from there.

At Waiting Room Records in uptown Normal, Mullins was spinning Montgomery's classic "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery" on the turntable for WGLT's Jon Norton.  He said after absorbing the music of Evans and Brubeck, he expanded into other artists, including jazz guitar legends Kenny Burrell, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt.  And lately, Wes Montgomery has been getting in his ears. 

"Montgomery actually uses his thumb to play a lot, because it gives that fatter, fuller, richer sound in the tone to the guitar, which enhances the sound.  And then on this album, you have the great quartet with Tommy Flanagan on piano.  You have Albert Heath laying out the rhythms and drums.  And then you have Percy Heath creating those great bass lines.  All this put together with Wes Montgomery's guitar and style really adds to this beautiful and progressive sound."

Mullins skipped through a number of tracks on the album, starting with "Four on Six."  He said he loves the way the song begins with a basic bass line from Percy Heath.

"And it also involves a lot of intricate work on Wes' part.   He plays the solos and octaves that flow very smoothly. The drum fills by Albert Heath are very present.  Added to the layer is Tommy Flanagan's playing that together makes a fat rich full tone.  The song has a fast hard-bop sound which flows well the whole album.  This track really lays down what makes Montgomery's music so amazing."

Mullins has also delved into the Montgomery's personal story, which he finds interesting for a number of reasons.  He was impressed that Montgomery got a relatively late start in jazz, getting his first six-string at age 19.

"Then he became very committed to Charlie Christian who came before him.  Christian is an amazing jazz player himself, and this influenced Wes.  After six months he turned professional.  After playing around his native Indianapolis, Cannonball Adderley came and listened to him while he was in town for a one night performance.  Wes started recording after that, and became one of the great guitarists and known for his octave playing and his very intricate and detailed solos he displays throughout this album."

After detailing Montgomery's early music history, he moved the needle to "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," which began with what Mullins called a beautiful piano part by Tommy Flanagan.  

"And then you layer it with Wes, the drums, then Percy Heath on bass it becomes this beautiful big song that produced such a large and full sound."

Mullins is also an aspiring songwriter, and says jazz has helped him understand the music in a different way different than the classic rock that has also had his ear for a number of years.

"A lot of jazz is in progression such as the 12-bar blues progression.  And then you have more complex stuff like complex chords, 9-11-13's.  When you dwell into the theory it becomes very complex.  I like how most jazz has to deal with major key as the improv.  It's beautiful what you can do with music and how you can have all these different styles within jazz such as bop, hard-bop, ballads, and Latin-jazz.  It all interests me because it's this progressive really complex stuff."

Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.