Wes Montgomery Chord Solo Transcription: Unit 7

Wes Montgomery Smokin' at the Half Note

Wes Montgomery Smokin' at the Half Note

Today’s transcription comes from Montreal Jazz guitarist Pat Mahoney. A high energy chord solo from one of Wes Montgomery’s Best recordings: Smokin at the Half Note with the Wynton Kelly Trio.
This is a great study in block chords. Actually the entire solo is a great example of Wes’ approach. Starting with single-note lines, moving to his trademark octaves, and ending with a chord solo. The energy builds over the entire solo. At Pat’s request, we are going to dig a little deeper into the chord choices that Wes has made. As you will see, this will lead us to the land of hipness known as chord substitutions. In the mean time, here is the transcription. Thanks for sharing Pat.

The Raw Material

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p1

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p1

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p2

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p2

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p3

Wes Montgomery Unit7 p3


Chord analysis

Unit 7 is basically a blues with a bridge. Have a look at my Jazz up your blues post for ways to add harmonic movement to a blues. Try some of these ideas on Unit 7 to create your own arrangement.
It is difficult to tell if the chords Wes played were re-harmonizations that were agreed on before the song was played, or chord substitution techniques he uses to improvise. So that being said, and the disclaimer that I may be guessing in some places, let’s figure this out.

Note that I have written the standard changes over the staff and the chord-subs under. This will give you a better idea of when to use these techniques.

Technique #1: Adding diatonic root movement:
Found in bars: (2-6,8,9,14-21,27,30,34,36,40,43)
Wes is adding a 2min7 chord before the 5 chord. This adds movement and motion to an otherwise static harmony. So, anytime you see a Dominant 7 chord, try placing the 2 chord before. In a couple of cases he even plays 2-5-2-5 in the same measure. Note: there may be certain instances when this doesn’t sound correct such as some secondary dominant situations. Let taste be your guide.
Here is another example(Changes are above the staff, subs are below):

Added Root Movement

Added Root Movement

Technique #2: Tri-tone Substitution
Found in bars:(32,33, possibly 23 and 43)

Tri-Tone Substitution

Tri-Tone Substitution

In this diagram we see that a C7 and F#7 maintain a common-tone relationship between the 3rd and 7th. Thus any dominant chord can be replaced by a dominant chord a tri-tone away and still maintain the integrity of the harmony.

The original chords for bars 32 and 33 are Em7-A7, Dm7-G7. The tri-tone of E is Bb and the tri-tone of D is Ab. So if we add these subs, our root movement is now Bb-A, Ab-G. Wes is playing dominant13 chords. So Em7 and Ab13 have 3 tones in common. Only the root is displaced. This works great for these type of turnarounds.

There is a ton of more ways to use tri-tone subs. Almost every diatonic chord and chord type can have a tri-tone sub. Taking into consideration melody, the possibilities are extreme. We will dig deeper if future posts.

Technique #3: Chromatic Approaches
Found in bars:(9,15,19,21,22 and 29)
This is an easy and effective one. Try approaching chords by a half-step. Depending on the resolving chord, this adds a moment of instability combined with smooth voice leading.

Technique #4: Chord Enrichment
Found…just about everywhere
Chord enrichment comes in 2 flavors. Diatonic, is when a chord is enriched with colors (notes) from it’s parent scale. Chromatic is when we add tensions to chords from other scales or the chromatic scale. For example, Wes rarely plays a straight dominant chord. He almost always adds a 9 or 13(diatonic enrichment) or b9,#9,b5,#5 etc.(chromatic enrichment). Note that not only dominant chords can be “enriched”.

Everything else

  • Bar 3 (D7b9): Can be thought of as a dominant that resolves to the Gmin7. (We call this secondary dominant the 5 of 2)
  • Bar 7 (C7alt.): This is a F7 bar and the C7alt is used to contrast the F7 and give some movement. (secondary dominant 5 of 5)
  • Bar 10 (G7#5): This is an anticipation of the G7 in the next bar.
  • Bar 15 (B13??): I mentioned this above. Only 2 notes to go on here, so I decided to think of it as a chromatic approach to C7. I have a feeling though that this has a melodic function rather than chord sub function.
  • Bar 19 (G7alt): This gives us a push into the C7 in the next bar. (delayed by 3 eighth notes.)
  • Bar 23 (Abmin7-Db7-Abmin7-Db7): Hard to tell if this originates from the changes they decided upon. It can be seen as a tri-tone sub of G7.
  • Bar 26 (D7b9): Similar to Bar 3. Dominant push to G7.
  • Bar 28-29 (Em7-A7b9, Bb7b9-A7): Instead of |Em7|A7|, Wes doubles up and plays |Em7-A7| Em7-A7|. He then adds a tri-tone sub on the second Em7 to make it Bb7(b9). Note also the Wes-ism used in bar 28. You can learn more about this here: Soloing with Block Chords Part 3: Half-Whole diminished
  • Bar 42-43 (Abmin7,Db7, Gmin7, C7): This is an anticipation. The Abmin7-Db7 is a tri-tone sub displaced from bar 43. The Gmin7 is setting up the C7 which is displaced from bar 44

Learn More

Here are a couple of GREAT books about chord substitution and such. I own them and highly recommend them if you want to learn more and play better.

Essential Wes Montgomery Listening

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2 Responses to Wes Montgomery Chord Solo Transcription: Unit 7

  1. RatchetJazz says:

    Technique #2 is a wonderfully simple explanation of the tri-tone substitution. I found a good exercise for practicing tritone subs over the 12-bar blues at bluesimprov.com. It really helped me tie things together with this article. Thanks for the transcription.

  2. Mike Miller says:

    What an amazing solo! Is the rest of the solo transcription available elsewhere? On my CD the solo starts with single-note runs from 2:30 to 4:06 where it switches to octaves until 4:53. The block-chord part of the solo transcribed here runs from 4:53 to 5:41. It looks like Steve Khan has transcribed the single-note segment here:


    Thanks so much for sharing this!

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