Barney Kessel

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Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel 2.jpg
Background information
Born (1923-10-17)October 17, 1923
Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died May 6, 2004(2004-05-06) (aged 80)
San Diego, U.S.
Genres Jazz, pop, R&B, rock
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1940s–1992
Labels Columbia, Contemporary, Reprise, Black Lion
Associated acts Chico Marx, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Sonny Rollins, Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Milt Jackson, The Wrecking Crew

Barney Kessel (October 17, 1923 – May 6, 2004) was an American jazz guitarist born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Noted in particular for his knowledge of chords and inversions and chord-based melodies, he was a member of many prominent jazz groups as well as a "first call" guitarist for studio, film, and television recording sessions. Kessel was a member of the group of session musicians informally known as the Wrecking Crew.

Biography[edit]

Kessel began his career as a teenager touring with local dance bands. When he was 16, he started playing with the Oklahoma A & M band, "Hal Price & the Varsitonians". The band members lovingly nicknamed him "Fruitcake" because he would practice up to 16 hours a day. He then moved on to bands such as that led by Chico Marx. He quickly established himself as a key post-Charlie Christian jazz guitarist. In 1944 he participated in the film Jammin' the Blues, which featured Lester Young, and in 1947 he recorded with Charlie Parker's New Stars on the Relaxin' at Camarillo session for Dial Records.[1] He was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, Down Beat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.[2]

Kessel is known for his innovative work in the guitar trio setting. In the 1950s, he made a series of albums called The Poll Winners with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. He was also the guitarist on the album Julie Is Her Name (1955) by Julie London, which includes the standard "Cry Me a River"; this million-selling song features a guitar part from Kessel which illustrates his melodic chordal approach in a minimal jazz group.[3] Also from the 1950s, his three Kessel Plays Standards volumes contain some of his most polished work.[citation needed]

Kessel was also a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio with Brown for a year, leaving in 1953. The guitar chair was called the hardest gig in show business since Peterson often liked to play at breakneck tempos.[citation needed] Herb Ellis took over from Kessel. Kessel also played with Sonny Rollins in the late 1950s and can be heard on the Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders album on songs like "How High the Moon".

In 1957, Barney Kessel was introduced to the Kay Musical Instrument Company while playing at a local jazz club in Chicago. He was offered 3 signature models, the K1700 (Pro), K6700 (Artist) and K8700 (Jazz Special) in the endorsement and each bore his signature etched into the underside off the pick guard. This was also the introduction of the "full kelvinator" headstock. In 1960, Barney left Kay but the production of these guitars continued without his signature. In 2014, the Kay Guitar Company, working closely with the Kessel widow Phillis, secured the licensing rights from the Kessel estate to reissue these 3 guitars.

Kessel was a "first call" guitarist at Columbia Pictures during the 1960s, and became one of the most in-demand session guitarists in America, and is considered a key member of the group of first-call session musicians now usually known as The Wrecking Crew.[citation needed] In this capacity he played on hundreds of famous pop recordings, including albums and singles by Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and many others. He appeared in an acting part playing a jazz guitarist named "Barney" in one episode of the Perry Mason TV show. He also wrote and arranged the source music, including a jazz version of "Here Comes the Bride", provided by the jazz combo that featured in the story.[citation needed]

Kessel playing a Guild guitar.

In 1961 The Gibson Guitar Corporation introduced The Barney Kessel model guitar onto the market and continued to make them until 1973. One custom instrument Kessel played was essentially a 12-string guitar neck attached to a mandolin body (similar to Vox's mando guitar), which may have been played on the intro to The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice".[citation needed]

He played Mr. Spock's theme on bass, which first appeared in the Star Trek episode "Amok Time".

During the 1970s, Kessel presented his seminar "The Effective Guitarist" in various locations around the world, and performed extensively with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as "The Great Guitars".

On Pete Townshend's 1983 album Scoop, Townshend paid homage to the guitarist with the instrumental song "To Barney Kessel".

Death[edit]

Kessel, who had been in poor health after suffering a stroke in 1992, died of a brain tumor at his home in San Diego, California on May 6, 2004 at the age of 80.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Kessel was married to B. J. Baker. They were divorced in 1980. Kessel's sons David and Daniel also became session musicians, working with Phil Spector during the 1970s.[5]

Discography[edit]

As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Georgie Auld

With Chet Baker

With Louis Bellson

With Benny Carter

With Buddy Collette

With Harry Edison

With Roy Eldridge

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Hampton Hawes

  • Four! (Contemporary, 1958)

With Woody Herman

With Billie Holiday

With Milt Jackson

With Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich

With Oliver Nelson

With Anita O'Day

With Art Pepper and Zoot Sims

With Shorty Rogers

With Sonny Rollins

With Pete Rugolo

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Complete Charlie Parker on Dial at AllMusic
  2. ^ "Barney Kessel". June 12, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2008. 
  3. ^ The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music. General Editor: Colin Larkin. First published 1993 (UK). ISBN 0-85112-732-0. Julie London, p. 210.
  4. ^ Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611. 

External links[edit]