Barney Kessel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel 2.jpg
Background information
Born(1923-10-17)October 17, 1923
Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedMay 6, 2004(2004-05-06) (aged 80)
San Diego, U.S.
GenresJazz, pop, R&B, rock
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Years active1940s–1992
LabelsColumbia, Contemporary, Reprise, Black Lion
Associated actsChico Marx, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Sonny Rollins, Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Milt Jackson, The Wrecking Crew, Sam Cooke

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.


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 used to 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 was known for his innovative work in the guitar trio setting. In the 1950s, he made a series of four 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] Kessel also did the same for Sarah Vaughan on her album Sarah + 2 recorded in 1962.

Barney Kessel was the winner of the prestigious Down Beat magazine readers poll in 1956, 1957 and 1958 and played the Kay Jazz Special K8700 exclusively during that era. In 1960, Barney left Kay but the production of these guitars continued without his signature.

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. At one point after a two and a half hour session to record a one-chord song, "The Beat Goes On", Kessel is reported to have stood up and proclaimed, "Never have so many played so little for so much."[4]

Kessel playing a guitar.


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.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Kessel was married to B. J. Baker. They were divorced in 1980. Kessel's sons Dan and David also became record producers and session musicians, working with Phil Spector, John Lennon, Cher and Leonard Cohen.[6]


As leader[edit]

  • Swinging Easy! [AKA Autumn Leaves] (Black Lion, 1968 [rel. 1971])
  • I Remember Django [AKA Stephane Grappelli Meets Barney Kessel] (Black Lion, 1969 [rel. 1971])
  • Limehouse Blues [AKA Tea For Two] (Black Lion, 1969 [rel. 1972]) - with Stephane Grappelli
  • Summertime In Montreux [AKA Yesterday] (Black Lion, 1973)
  • Blue Soul (Black Lion, 1968–1969 [rel. 1975])
  • Feeling Free (Contemporary, 1969) - with Bobby Hutcherson
  • What's New...Barney Kessel? (Mercury [France], 1969)
  • Reflections in Rome [AKA Barney Kessel] (RCA Victor [Italy], 1969)
  • Kessel's Kit (RCA Victor [Italy], 1969)
  • Guitarra: It's Modern It Swings It's Vibrant (RCA Camden, 1970) - reissue of Kessel's Kit
  • Two Way Conversation (Sonet, 1973 [rel. 1974]) - with Red Mitchell
  • Just Friends [live] (Sonet, 1973 [rel. 1975])
  • The Poll Winners: Straight Ahead (Contemporary, 1975) - with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
  • Great Guitars [live] (Concord Jazz, 1975) - with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis
  • Barney Plays Kessel [AKA Barney Kessel & Friends] (Concord Jazz, 1975)
  • Great Guitars II [studio] (Concord Jazz, 1976) - with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis
  • By Myself (Victor [Japan], 1977)
  • Live at Sometime (Trio [Japan], 1977)
  • Soaring (Concord Jazz, 1977)
  • Poor Butterfly (Concord Jazz, 1977) - with Herb Ellis
  • Great Guitars: Straight Tracks (Concord Jazz, 1978) - with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis
  • Great Guitars At The Winery (Concord Jazz, 1980) - with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis
  • Jellybeans (Concord Jazz, 1981)
  • Great Guitars At Charlie's Georgetown (Concord Jazz, 1983) - with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis
  • Solo (Concord Jazz, 1983)
  • The Artistry of Barney Kessel (Contemporary, 1986) - compilation; material recorded 1953–1969
  • Spontaneous Combustion (Contemporary, 1987) - with the Monty Alexander Trio
  • Red Hot and Blues (Contemporary, 1988) - with Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Barron
  • It's a Blue World (Jazz Hour, 1990) - compilation; material recorded 1968–1969 and 1973
  • The Concord Jazz Heritage Series: Barney Kessel (Concord Jazz, 1998) - compilation
  • Salute to Charlie Christian (Past Perfect, 2002) - compilation; material recorded 1952–1954
  • Plays for Lovers (Contemporary, 2003) - compilation; material recorded 1953–1988
  • Military Swing (PJL/Jazzbank [Japan], 2006) - recorded 1958–1961
  • Live in Los Angeles at P.J.'s Club (Gambit, 2006) - reissue of The Fantastic Guitar Of Barney Kessel: On Fire
  • Blues for a Playboy (FiveFour, 2007) - compilation; material recorded 1952–1956
  • Live at The Jazz Mill 1954 (Modern Harmonic/Sundazed, 2016) - with the "Jazz Millers" trio
  • Live at The Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 (Modern Harmonic/Sundazed, 2018) - with the "Jazz Millers" trio

As sideman[edit]

With Benny Carter

With Buddy DeFranco

  • Generalissimo (Verve, 1959)
  • Live Date (Verve, 1959)
  • Bravura (Verve, 1959)
  • Wailers (Verve, 1960)

With Harry Edison

With Billie Holiday

With Anita O'Day

With Shorty Rogers

With Pete Rugolo

With others[edit]


  • Kessel, Barney; Laurindo Almeida, Howard Heitmeyer, Al Hendrickson, Bill Pitman, Bob Bain, Jack Marshall, Howard Roberts (1961). West Coast Guitar: Eight Original Solos for Guitar. New York: Leeds Music Corporation. ASIN B0080YPG16.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Marshall, Wolf; Kessel, Barney (2009). Barney Kessel: A Step-by-Step Breakdown of His Guitar Styles and Techniques. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1423430476.
  • Summerfield, Maurice J.; Kessel, Barney (2008). Barney Kessel: A Jazz Legend. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 978-1872639697.
  • Kessel, Barney (1992). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel: Guitar Solo. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 978-0793516438.
  • Kessel, Barney (1997). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel, Vol. 2. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 978-0793587056.
  • Kessel, Barney (2000). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel, Vol. 3. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 978-0634023231.


  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. ^ Hartman, Kent, The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best-Kept Secret, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2012 p. 163.
  5. ^ Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611.

External links[edit]