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Indy jazz artist Wes Montgomery honored with marker

Photo: Indy Jazz Fest

On March 6, 101 years after his birth, revolutionary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was recognized with the dedication of a historical marker on the intersection of 10th Street and Bellefontaine Street. The site is close to the Monon Trail and about five minutes away from the now-demolished house where Montgomery, his wife, Serene, and their children lived at 1217 Cornell Ave. 

Montgomery was best known for strumming his guitar with his thumb – a technique he developed to keep the noise down at night for Serene and their neighbors. His sound was smooth, warm and innovative, leaving behind a legacy for artists in Indy and beyond.

The historical marker has been three years in the making, and the process required comprehensive research into primary sources that included documents and interviews before the application could be submitted to the Indiana Historical Board in 2021.

IHB’s board had a Wes Montgomery marker on its internal wishlist for years, said Casey Pfieffer, the manager for the marker program.

Research for the marker was led by Scott Taylor, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and Katie Taylor, a writer. The couple were familiar with the application process, having successfully applied for a marker for John Hope School 26, an initiative led by the Oaks Academy to pay tribute to the history of the school it had purchased.

For the Wes Montgomery marker, the Taylors collaborated closely with Rob Dixon, artistic director of Indy Jazz Fest, and Robert Montgomery, Wes’ son, along with the city, the IHB and other groups. Together, they took on the challenge of capturing Montgomery’s life and legacy, taking out their personal reverence for the jazz legend and focusing only on facts and documented history.

“You had to really think about, ‘Okay, how do we talk about this person and not connect my emotional feelings and inspirational things that he brought to my life and music?”' Dixon said. “That was a challenge, but it was rewarding.” 

Montgomery was born on March 6, 1923, and grew up in a two-bedroom house at 1007 N. Pershing St. with his parents and four siblings. After his parents separated, he and his two older brothers moved with his father to Columbus, Ohio, and Montgomery returned to Indianapolis when he was around 18.

He died on June 15, 1968, at age 45 – his funeral was attended by 2,000 people, including renowned saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, who first took notice of Montgomery in 1959 at the Missile Room on North West Street, according to IndyStar reports from the time. Cannonball was in town for a show at the Indiana Theater, playing with Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk and other stars. 

The marker’s dedication is open to the public and will be at 4 p.m. March 6, with a post-ceremony reception for friends and family at Bottleworks Hotel.


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