Buddy Montgomery - vibraphone; Monk Montgomery - Fender electric bass; Rich Crabtree - piano; Benny Barth - drums
The West Coast counterpart to the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Mastersounds presented a cool, tastefully-arranged brand of jazz that combined the shimmering sound of vibraphone with piano, bass and drums. And while vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery may have been the Milt Jackson of the Mastersounds, his brother Monk brought a distinctly different quality to the band on Fender electric bassist than his MJQ counterpart, upright bassist Percy Heath. Rounded out by pianist Rich Crabtree and drummer Benny Barth, the Mastersounds had a three-year stint of popularity through six successful recordings on the Pacific Jazz/World Pacific label, beginning with 1957's Jazz Showcase…Introducing the Mastersounds. In the span of about two years, Pacific Jazz would subsequently release The King and I: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds, Kismet: An Interpretation by the Mastersounds (featuring a special guest appearance by brother Wes Montgomery on guitar) and Flower Drum Song: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds. In spite of the fact that they were named they were named as the 1959 Down Beat Critic's Poll for Best New Group, The Mastersounds ultimately disbanded in early 1960. They had a reunion in the studio later that year to record for the Fantasy label and the three Montgomery brothers also subsequently played together on a 1961 Riverside recording, Groove Yard.
The Mastersounds opened their July 3rd set at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival with "Golden Earrings," a beguiling Ray Evans tune that became a smash hit in 1948 for singer Peggy Lee and was later covered in numerous instrumental versions by a variety of jazz artists. Barth's supple brushwork on the kit sets a gentle tone while Crabtree comps lightly and politely around Buddy Montgomery's delicate vibes playing. Monk, one of the pioneers of the electric bass guitar in jazz, walks persuasively on his instrument throughout this buoyantly swinging rendition, providing a surging momentum behind Crabtree's deft piano solo. Next up is a medley of two Broadway show tunes from The King and I - "The Puzzlement" and "Something Wonderful" -- which showcases the full dynamic range of the quartet. While that popular Rodgers & Hammerstein show also included more memorable tunes like "Getting to Know You" and "Hello Young Lovers," The Mastersounds demonstrate an adventurous streak in tackling these two more challenging pieces of music. They close out their brief but exemplary set by exploring Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream." A Latin-tinged number with a memorable hook (a signature of most of Silver's writing), this hard bop staple allows Buddy to stretch out on vibraphones and flex his improvisational chops during his solo. Older brother Monk shouts out encouragements ("Yeah! Work, work, work!") to Buddy while maintaining an unerring pulse on this uptempo swinger. If the rest of their Newport set was informed by a decidedly cool aesthetic, this rousing finale provided the heat.
The youngest of the three Montgomery brothers, Charles "Buddy" Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 30, 1930. Essentially self-taught, he started playing piano at an early age and became a professional at age 18 in 1948. The following year he went out on tour with Kansas City blues shouter Big Joe Turner and later played vibraphone on recordings with Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. He played piano with trombonist Slide Hampton before serving a stint in the Army, then went on the road with the Lionel Hampton Big Band in 1956. The following year he formed the Mastersounds in Seattle with his older brother Monk Montgomery. They enjoyed a three-year run with the group before disbanding in 1960. Buddy subsequently worked with tenor sax great Johnny Griffin in 1963 before releasing his debut as a leader in 1968, Two-Sided Album on Milestone. In 1969, he relocated to Milwaukee, where he held down a regular weekly engagement for 15 years at the Bombay Bicycle Club in the Pfister Hotel. He became a towering influence on several aspiring Milwaukee jazz musicians, including pianist David Hazeltine and trumpeter Brian Lynch, both of whom are now highly respected artists on the New York jazz scene. During his stay in Milwaukee, Montgomery also taught improvisation at the Wisconsin College-Conservatory (even though he himself couldn't read music). He relocated to Oakland in the mid 1980s and subsequently worked with such artists as former Thelonious Monk saxophonist Charlie Rouse, the great vibraphonist-composer Bobby Hutcherson, alto saxophonist John Handy and Latin percussionist Pete Escovedo. He recorded his last album as a leader, 2000's A Love Affair in Paris, at age 70 and died nine years later on May 14, 2009.
The oldest of the three brothers, William "Monk" Montgomery was born in Indianapolis on October 10, 1921. He toured with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra from 1951 to 1953, unveiling the electric bass guitar during the end of his tenure with Hamp. He played in the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet in Indianapolis with his brothers Wes and Buddy (along with tenor saxophonist Alonzo Johnson and drummer Robert Johnson) during 1955-1956 and later moved to Seattle, where he and brother Buddy formed The Mastersounds in 1957. Following the group's breakup, he freelanced with such West Coast jazz artists as Cal Tjader and Red Norvo. His first recording as a leader came in 1969 (It's Never Too Late on the obscure Mo Jazz label). He followed that up in 1971 with the decidedly psychedelic Bass Odyssey on the equally obscure Chisa label. His last session as a leader came in 1974 with Reality on the Philadelphia International label. During his last years, he was active as the founder of the Las Vegas Jazz Society. He died of cancer in Las Vegas at age 61 on May 20, 1982. (Milkowski)