In Loving Memory of Charles “Buddy” Montgomery 1930-2009

Exclusive Interview With His Granddaughter Mykah Montgomery
By Thembisa S. Mshaka

Charles "Buddy" Montgomery 1930-2009

Charles "Buddy" Montgomery 1930-2009

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 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.


Buddy Montgomery , Mykah Montgomery, Mylaan Montgomery

Buddy Montgomery , Mykah Montgomery, Mylaan Montgomery



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.

The Montgomery Brothers

The Montgomery Brothers


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.


Charles "Buddy" Montgomery

Charles "Buddy" Montgomery

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.”


The Montgomery Legacy Continues With Mykah's Solo Debut

The Montgomery Legacy Continues With Mykah's Solo Debut

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: 
To Read More About Mykah Montgomery in Put Your Dreams First: 
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Thembisa S. Mshaka is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, in stores now.
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8 Responses to “In Loving Memory of Charles “Buddy” Montgomery 1930-2009”

  1. Brian McLaughlin Says:

    I just discovered this news about Buddy Montgomery’s passing now about four months after. I was not previously aware of Mykah or her career as a musician but will indeed be on the look out for her work. I am 55 years old having grown up in Washington, DC where my dad was a local part time jazz musician. He did influence me to become a musician in my life as well, if even against my will as a youngster. And just as important were the albums and recordings that my dad often had playing at home. I remember one Christmas he brought home a Mastersounds Christmas album, “Happy Holidays from Many Lands”. I couldn’t stop playing it.
    It was so accessible to a child’s ear yet so musically and harmonically sophisticated. The tunes and sounds from this recording have stayed with me all of my life. A few years ago, I was able to put this old album on a turntable and hear it again. There was this tune that Buddy had composed, “Bells for Charla” which I later discovered he had done for his daughter. This was the one song that would pop into my head so many times through the years. I would go on to transcribe it for my instrument, the guitar, just because I had to.
    I then got the idea that I would try to record it, put it on a disc and try to somehow send it to Mr. Montgomery. I just wanted him to know what an impact his music had on some kid getting up in age now himself. Well, I’m not sure if I could have even overcome my shyness to follow through with this intention. Somehow, I believe that if I had, he would have been encouraging to me. I believe this in some part because I did have an opportunity to meet his brother Monk. Sometime in the mid 70’s I was fortunate to be a member of one of the military bands and we were traveling through Las Vegas. One of the guys in my band was very proactive and not very shy about contacting notable musicians wherever we would be. He asked me if I would be interested in going with him to a casino lounge where Monk was working, backing up a singer that evening.
    Of course! He called me and said that Monk said to bring our instruments and he’d spend some time with us after the gig. We got there in time to see most of the gig. I can remember being taken with the economy that Monk employed. Nothing wasted, nothing unintended, no bravado, just spot on support. It took me some years to realize what I had seen and learned that evening. Monk did end up spending about an hour with us after his gig. We played a few tunes and I didn’t know very many tunes at that time, I was mostly lost without charts. Monk told me that I had a good ear and to learn to trust my ear and not to hesitate for fear of making a mistake. I have met so few gentlemen among musicians or otherwise to compare with Monk. I sure don’t mean to project here, but I have every reason to believe that if I had been able meet Buddy, I would have walked away holding on to that same spirit, warmth and wisdom.

  2. Helen H. Jones Says:

    My name is Helen H. Jones, and I am a relative of yours. Born in Sebastopol, Ca and raised in San Francisco. And now live in New Orleans, LA. I am working on our family genealogy/Montgomery family tree. Buddy, Monk, and Wes father is my great great grandfather and great great grandmother son. I am looking for the name of Buddy, Monk, and Wes father’ name. He is originally from Greensburg, LA in St. Helena Parish. During the early sixties they would hang with their cousins, Thomas Wilson Vaughn III and Hilda Vaughn (my mother and aunt second second cousins), Irma Lewis Wade (my Aunt), Annie Bell Lewis Henderson (my mother) in Oakland, CA. The Vaughn Father has a church in Oakland. There is alot I can tell you about the older Montgomery’s. And you are in California – where I have alot of relations – that have the same blood line. You can either email me or call me at 504-861-3082. Please call so I can give you a better explanation of my research.

  3. Helen H. Jones Says:

    I grew up hearing about the great trio – from my older relatives. Never had the opportuntiy to meet them. I was a little girl. One of my favorite pieces is “Green Onions,” yes indeed! The world was blessed to have them.

  4. Russell Says:

    Take nothing but ancestors, leave nothing but records.

  5. Angela Cristina Silva Cristina Says:

    Amo esta música de paixão…fala comigo lá dentro do meu coração…

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