Monk Montgomery moved to Las Vegas to play a residency at The Tropicana Lounge with Red Norvo and guitarist Lloyd Ellis. Originally intended to be a three week engagement, the gig lasted several months and ended due to a change of management at the venue. Montgomery was frustrated by the lack of live jazz in a city dubbed as the entertainment capital of the world. While he was working hard to establish a jazz scene in the city, he took a job working with The Drifters. Although he didn’t express any negative feelings towards The Drifters, he stated that he didn’t enjoy the gig from a musical standpoint.
The Las Vegas Jazz Society was founded on April 22nd 1975 by Monk Montgomery along with a team of dedicated volunteers. Set up as a not for profit organisation, the LVJS supported jazz in the city in several ways. Along with the organisation of jazz concerts, the LVJS also provided workshops and published a monthly magazine called Think Jazz! The magazine featured articles reviewing records and live performances, interviews, competitions, gig listings and information about local jazz-based radio and TV shows. Monk Montgomery opened each issue of the magazine with his column Monk’s Corner.
The first LVJS concert took place at the Students Union Ballroom on August 31st 1975 and was opened by vocalist Joe Williams. Trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard closed the show. Other concerts promoted by the LVJS during Monk Montgomery’s lifetime featured artists such as Sarah Vaughn, Louis Bellson, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell and Buddy Montgomery. The LVJS also designated a ‘jazz month’ during the year where several live performances were promoted, many of which were free to attend with the aim of engaging the general public with jazz music.
During his time in Las Vegas, Monk Montgomery hosted a weekly radio show called Reality Of Jazz which started on KLAV Radio and later moved to Radio KORK and then to Radio KNPR-FM 89.5. Montgomery also sat on the Jazz, Folk and Ethnic Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and organised the Western Regional Federation of Jazz which brought together representatives from 12 western states. The record label Bean Records was started by Montgomery during his time in Las Vegas. The label released four albums, all of which are now rarities. The releases featured the University Of Las Vegas Jazz Ensemble, Monk’s younger brother Buddy Montgomery and a local ensemble called Full Circle.
Monk Montgomery died of cancer on May 20th 1982. A memorial concert was organised by the LVJS in his honour on August 29th 1982 at The Dunes Hotel. Several high profile jazz musicians played at the event including Freddie Hubbard, Billy Eckstine and Marlena Shaw. Although Montgomery was a major driving force behind the activities of the LVJS, the organisation carried on its work and is still in existence today. Details of their current work can be found at www.lvjs.org