Like Charlie Christian before him and George Benson to follow, Wes Montgomery reinvented jazz guitar. Each of them dominated the field in their respective eras.

Born in Indianapolis in 1923, Montgomery stumbled upon Christian’s music with Benny Goodman’s band and discovered the world of possibilities of the guitar. While not a hub of jazz, the thriving hometown scene allowed Montgomery’s talent to flourish. Coming up with a style of invention based on necessity, he woodshedded at home, playing quietly without a plectrum into the wee hours so as not to disturb his sleeping family.

It was exactly the result of these circumstances that made Montgomery so unique. His technique sans pick gave his tone a distinctive warmth, while his use of octaves and block chords made his single guitar sound like an orchestra. When it was time to play single-note runs, his fluidity showed mighty jazz chops with a bluesy feel.

Montgomery rose to world prominence and unprecedented success performing and recording with so many other greats, including Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, Percy Heath, Jimmy Smith and John Coltrane. He even crossed over into pop and found his way onto the Top 40 charts. Throughout his relatively short career, the man never stopped developing musically, from his early years with organ trios and smaller combos to the lush arrangements created by Claus Oogerman in the 1960’s.

Wes Montgomery’s legacy continues to be felt today. Next time your favourite jazz guitarist plays with octaves, you can smile knowing you’re hearing his enduring influence. If you want to dive into the music of Wes Montgomery, these five albums are a great way to start.