October 17, 1923|
Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States
|Died||May 6, 2004
San Diego, United States
|Genres||Jazz, pop, R&B, rock|
|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.
Kessel began his career as a teenager touring with local dance bands before moving 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. He was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, Down Beat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.
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. Also from the 1950s, his three Kessel Plays Standards volumes contain some of his most polished work.
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. 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".
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. 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.
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".
Kessel, who had been in poor health after suffering a stroke in 1992,  died of a brain tumor at his home in San Diego, Ca. on Thursday, May 6, 2004. Barney Kessel was 80. He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, in Canandaigua, NY. In addition to his wife Phyllis, Mr. Kessel is survived by two sons from a previous marriage to the former Gail Farmer: Dan, of Hemet, Calif., and David, of Pacific Grove, Calif. Also surviving are three stepchildren from his widow: Christian Wand, of Los Angeles; Colette Wand Wirtschafter, of Marysville, Calif.; and Cleo Dougherty, of Boonton, N.J.; and five grandchildren.
- Easy Like (Contemporary 1953-55 )
- Kessel Plays Standards (Contemporary 1954-55 ) - rerelease of Barney Kessel Volume 2 10-inch LP with additional material
- To Swing or Not to Swing (Contemporary, 1955) with Sweets Edison, Georgie Auld, Jimmy Rowles
- Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By (Contemporary, 1956)
- The Poll Winners (Contemporary, 1957) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
- Let's Cook! (Contemporary, 1957)
- The Poll Winners Ride Again! (Contemporary 1958) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
- Carmen (Contemporary, 1958)
- Some Like It Hot (Contemporary, 1959)
- Poll Winners Three! (Contemporary 1959) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
- Barney Kessel's Swingin' Party (Contemporary, 1960 )
- Exploring the Scene! (Contemporary, 1960) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
- Workin' Out! with the Barney Kessel Quartet (Contemporary, 1961)
- Breakfast at Tiffany's (Reprise, 1961)
- Bossa Nova (Reprise, 1962)
- Contemporary Latin Rhythms (Reprise, 1963)
- On Fire (Emerald, 1965)
- Swinging Easy! (Black Lion, 1968 )
- Hair Is Beautiful! (Atlantic 1968)
- Feeling Free (Contemporary, 1969)
- Guitarra (RCA Camden, 1969 )
- Barney Kessel (RCA Victor, 1969)
- Limehouse Blues (Freedom, 1969) with Stéphane Grappelli
- I Remember Django (Black Lio, 1969) with Stéphane Grappelli
- Autumn Leaves (Black Lion 1969)
- What's New... Barney Kessel? (Mercury, 1969)
- The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead (Contemporary 1975) with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown
- Soaring (Concord Jazz 1976)
- Solo (Concord Jazz 1981)
- Spontaneous Combustion (Contemporary 1987) with the Monty Alexander Trio
- Red Hot and Blues (Contemporary 1988) with Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Ben Riley
With Georgie Auld
- In the Land of Hi-Fi with Georgie Auld and His Orchestra (EmArcy, 1955)
With Chet Baker
- Albert's House (Beverley Hills, 1969)
With Benny Carter
- Jazz Giant (Contemporary, 1958)
With Buddy Collette
- Man of Many Parts (Contemporary, 1956)
With Harry Edison
- Sweets (Clef, 1956)
With Roy Eldridge
- Dale's Wail (Clef, 1953)
With Ella Fitzgerald
- Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (Verve, 1956)
With Hampton Hawes
- Four! (Contemporary, 1958)
With Billie Holiday
- Billie Holiday Sings (Clef, 1952)
- Billie Holiday (Clef, 1953)
- Billie Holiday (Clef, 1954)
- Billie Holiday at JATP (Clef, 1954)
- Music for Torching (Clef, 1956)
- Velvet Mood (Clef, 1956)
- Lady Sings the Blues (Clef, 1956)
- Body and Soul (Verve, 1957)
- Songs for Distingué Lovers (Verve, 1957)
- All or Nothing at All (Verve, 1958)
With Milt Jackson
- Ballads & Blues (Atlantic, 1956)
With Oliver Nelson
With Anita O'Day
- This Is Anita (Verve, 1956)
- Pick Yourself Up with Anita O'Day (Verve, 1957)
- Anita Sings the Winners (Verve, 1958)
- Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May (Verve, 1959)
- Trav'lin' Light (Verve, 1961)
With Sonny Rollins
- Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders (Contemporary, 1958)
With Shorty Rogers
- 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.
- 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.
- The Complete Charlie Parker on Dial at AllMusic
- "Barney Kessel". June 12, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
- 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.
- Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611.
- Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times.
- Barney Kessel at AllMusic
- on YouTube
- Barney Kessel at the Wayback Machine (archived December 10, 2007)
- "Barney Kessel". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 10, 2010.