Exclusive Interview With His Granddaughter Mykah Montgomery
By Thembisa S. Mshaka
A Piece For Peeps
Charles “Buddy” Montgomery, lovingly known by his family as “Peeps”, was a master pianist and vibraphonist. He was the youngest of the legendary Montgomery Brothers, pioneering innovators of West Coast Jazz. He also recorded and performed with Miles Davis, Slide Hampton and Big Joe Turner. He recorded 11 albums as an artist with a career that spanned 60 years.
While I knew and grew up on Buddy Montgomery’s music, it wasn’t until his granddaughter Mykah and I met in the late ‘80s that I came to know him personally. Because Mykah and I considered one another family, when she introduced me to him, he insisted that I call him Peeps. He was a warm and beloved patriarch.
When Mykah called me with the news of his passing on May 14, 2009 I was heartbroken. The last surviving Montgomery Brother of the jazz trio had transitioned—but more importantly, Peeps, with his easy manner and wide smile, was gone. My love and prayers are with the Montgomery family, and I wanted to contribute more as a music lover and journalist.
I am deeply honored to pay tribute to his memory with a thembisamshaka.com exclusive: the conversation about Peeps granted by Mykah Montgomery, his granddaughter and an artist in her own right, immediately following his passing. Mykah shares the importance of family, mentorship and musicianship that Peeps handed down to her. Because of those lessons, his legacy will live on through Mykah and her family, right down to her 4 year-old daughter, who already knows her jazz.
Peeps played music with his brothers. Talk to me about his relationship to family in general.
Family was everything to him. His children were his world and joy. He wrote songs after all of us: “Blues For David” (for my dad, his son), “Bells For Charla”, (for my aunt, his daughter), “Mykah” and “Little Fella” (for me and my brother Anthony respectively, both found on the Ties album), and “Darrah” (for my cousin, found on the second Ties album). The albums were titled Ties for his strong dedication to his family ties. Much love to my brother, Anthony Montgomery, and cousins Darrah and Chase Montgomery. We love him and he loved us. What a gift we were given.
Tell me about Christmas ’08 and the photo you took with your daughter and grandfather.
Peeps used to just laugh at Mylaan. He thought she was funny and full of energy, and she is. He just sat and soaked in the time he had with his family. We are all very loving and we enjoyed his company whether he said anything or not.
What kind of grandfather was he?
Peeps, as he was affectionately called by his family, was a wonderful man. I’m his first grandchild. He always made me feel like I was important and more special than anyone else on the planet. He looked at me when I was speaking and acted overly interested. He gave great big hugs and wanted to know what was new with me. Peeps was my friend, my mentor. Though he lived in Southern California and I in Northern California, we spoke on the phone whenever we could. I thought about him often and sent good thoughts and prayers his way every night. He was always very interested in what I was doing musically, and when I visited him in LA he tried to teach me how to play the piano. He taught me a lot about the business and especially how to be respected at my craft.
Did you ever see him with your great uncles?
Uncle Wes died before I was born. I was fortunate enough to spend time with Uncle Monk.
What kind of brother was Peeps?
He was a lot of fun. Peeps seemed to be the more serious of the two. Uncle Monk joked a lot. It was funny seeing them together because they were so much at ease with one another. They joked and laughed, making it relatively impossible for anyone else around them to do anything other than laugh with them. They were hilarious.
What was your favorite quote or saying of his?
I can still hear him start off his conversation with “Aaaaaaaaaaa, how’s it goin’?” He had a way about saying that that made me feel warm and welcome.
What do you appreciate most about his musicianship?
Even though he didn’t read music, my grandfather was a fantastic writer and arranger. He was an awesome pianist and the vibes were my daughter’s favorite instrument to hear him play. She loved seeing him play. When she was two, we went to see him play at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I asked her while we were there, what kind of music was Peeps playing and she said, “Jazz!”. People around us were amazed that she new about jazz at such an early age. Mylaan, like my brother and I, grew up listening to jazz and seeing Peeps play, so it was second nature for us. It wasn’t really a big deal. It was only Peeps doing his thing.
What was it like to record with him?
It was cool recording with him. I learned a great deal about recording live. I had never recorded that way before. In my recording experiences up until then, my studio sessions consisted of me laying vocals to music that was already on tracks. Timing was everything, and he was very patient with me. He made sure that everyone else was patient with me too. He was extremely protective of his family. I think he was proud that I handled the business portion of that project as well as I did. I flew him to the Bay Area, and I flew one of his musicians in from Indianapolis. I paid them all–I even paid my grandfather.
What will happen to those songs now?
The songs have never been heard, but turned out very nice. One of the songs we recorded, “In The Wee Small Hours”, has a special lead-in part that he played so that I would know when to begin my vocal. He always had my back. I am not sure what I will do with those recordings. I just know that they are extremely special to me.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from him about being a recording artist?
An artist should never pattern oneself after someone doing the same thing as them. For instance, in jazz, a vocalist may pattern their vocal styling after the riffs of a horn, or the bass, or a piano, but not another singer. That was fantastic advice.
What did Peeps have to say about your music?
Peeps loved my music. My Auntie Charla told him that I could sing when I was 16 years old. She begged him to let me open the 2nd Annual Oakland Jazz Festival for the Oakland Jazz Alliance. My Aunt is a huge fan and supporter of mine and has always believed in me. My grandfather let me do it just because I was his granddaughter, but after hearing my performance he was very, very proud of me. When I left for New York to pursue a music career on Mercury Records as 1/3 of Emage, he was very excited. He gave me a big pep talk and was proud to know that the torch had been passed. After my experience with Emage, he continued to mentor and motivate me. He always asked me how my music was doing and spoke to me about important things to remember in the business. He used to tell me, “Don’t forget to use the Montgomery family name. It could help you one day.”
Are you the only musical Montgomery now?
Yes. My Auntie Charla Montgomery (his daughter) and my father, David Montgomery (his son) are the business people. Charla started a music promotion company called Groove Yard Entertainment to promote performances of independent artists.
What does West Coast Jazz mean to you?
Music is music to me. I either like it or I don’t no matter where it comes from. Jazz is in my blood. I will always respect it and have a place for it in my repertoire.
What will you miss most about him?
EVERYTHING. I will miss him terribly. I miss him so much already. Everything about him is a part of my wonderful experience of being his granddaughter; being blessed enough to be a part of his life. I can still feel how it felt to give him a great big hug.
More on Mykah Montgomery:
To Hear Music: http://www.myspace.com/mykahmme
To Read More About Mykah Montgomery in Put Your Dreams First: http://www.putyourdreamsfirst.com
On Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mykah72
Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, in stores now.
My Blog: www.thembisamshaka.com
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Tags: big joe turner, Charles Buddy Montgomery, Emage, groove yard entertainment, jazz, mercury records, miles davis, monk montgomery, monterey jazz festival, Mykah Montgomery, oakland jazz alliance, oakland jazz festival, slide hampton, wes montgomery, west coast jazz