Jazz musician Charles ‘Buddy’ Montgomery dies at 79


Charles “Buddy” Montgomery, the pianist and vibraphonist who was one of the jazz-playing Montgomery brothers that included the legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery, has died. He was 79.

Montgomery died May 14 of heart failure at his home in Palmdale, according to his family.

Buddy was the youngest of the three brothers who made their names in music. Monk Montgomery was one of the first significant electric bassists in jazz. Buddy, Wes and Monk played together in the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet and as part of the Montgomery Brothers. Buddy and Monk were also in a group called the Mastersounds.

Montgomery was born in Indianapolis on Jan. 30, 1930. His musical family also included a brother, Thomas, who played the drums but died of pneumonia at 19, and a sister, Ervena, who played piano.


Buddy started out on piano and by 18 was touring with blues singer Big Joe Turner. He later played with trombonist and arranger Slide Hampton.

After a stint in the Army during the Korean War, Buddy led the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet from 1955 to 1957 with his brothers Wes on guitar and Monk on bass. Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson played alto saxophone and Sonny Johnson was on drums.

By 1956, Buddy had switched to the vibraphone, an instrument he became interested in as a teenager after seeing Lionel Hampton. In 1957, Buddy and Monk formed the Mastersounds, with Benny Barth on drums and Richie Crabtree on piano. Richard Bock, owner of Pacific Jazz Records, released several albums of their work, and the group found steady gigs in San Francisco.

On Buddy’s suggestion, one of their albums, “The King and I: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds,” featured music from the hit Broadway show. Two of their other albums were thematic excursions through Broadway productions, “Kismet: An Interpretation by the Mastersounds” and “Flower Drum Song: A Modern Jazz Interpretation by the Mastersounds.”

In 1959, the group recorded its only live album at what was then Pasadena Junior College before disbanding late in the year.

Through much of the ‘60s, the three Montgomery brothers played together and recorded albums including “Groove Brothers” and “Groove Yard” as the Montgomery Brothers.


After Wes Montgomery’s death from a heart attack in 1968, Buddy moved to Milwaukee and worked the hotel circuit there for much of the next decade. In the early 1980s, he lived in the Bay Area, recording for Landmark and Riverside.

Monk died in 1982.

Montgomery was active in jazz education, organizing the Milwaukee Jazz Alliance and later the Oakland Jazz Alliance, which brought jazz into the public schools in those cities.

Montgomery’s survivors include his wife, Ann; a son, David; a daughter, Charla; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister.

A memorial service in being planned in Oakland.