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] 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 Ray 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".[citation needed]

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.

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".[citation needed]


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]

  • Swing Guitars (Verve, 1953)
  • Easy Like (Contemporary 1953 [1955])
  • Barney Kessel, Vol. 1 (Contemporary, 1953)
  • Barney Kessel, Vol. 2 (Contemporary, 1954)
  • To Swing or Not to Swing (Contemporary, 1955)
  • Kessel Plays Standards (Contemporary, 1955 [1955]) re-release of Barney Kessel Volume 2
  • Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By (Contemporary, 1956)
  • Let's Cook! (Contemporary, 1957)
  • The Poll Winners (Contemporary, 1957) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
  • The Poll Winners Ride Again! (Contemporary, 1959) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
  • Poll Winners Three! (Contemporary, 1959) with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown
  • Carmen (Contemporary, 1959)
  • Some Like It Hot (Contemporary, 1959)
  • Barney Kessel's Swingin' Party (Contemporary, 1960)
  • 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)
  • Guitar Workshop (Saba, 1967)
  • Hair Is Beautiful! (Atlantic, 1968)
  • Blue Soul (Black Lion, 1968)
  • Aquarius: The Music from Hair (Black Lion, 1968)
  • Feeling Free (Contemporary, 1969)
  • Reflections in Rome (RCA, 1969)
  • Kessel's Kit (aka Guitarra (RCA Camden, 1969 [Italy], 1970 [international])
  • Limehouse Blues (Freedom, 1969)
  • I Remember Django (Black Lion, 1969)
  • Yesterday (Black Lion, 1973)
  • Just Friends (Sonet, 1973)
  • Two Way Conversation (Emarcy/Universal, 1973)
  • Great Guitars (Concord Jazz, 1974)
  • Three Guitars (Concord Jazz, 1974)
  • Barney Plays Kessel (Concord Jazz, 1975)
  • Straight Ahead (Contemporary, 1975) with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown
  • Soaring (Concord Jazz, 1976)
  • Poor Butterfly (Concord Jazz, 1976
  • Live at Sometime 1977
  • Tea for Two 1977
  • Solo (Concord Jazz, 1981)
  • Jellybeans (Concord Jazz, 1981
  • Spontaneous Combustion (Contemporary, 1987)
  • Red Hot and Blues (Contemporary, 1988)
  • Plays "Carmen" (1990)
  • Barney Kessel and Friends (Concord Jazz, 1990)
  • Great Guitars 2 (Concord Jazz, 1995)
  • It's a Blue World (Jazz Hour 1996)
  • Salute to Charlie Christian (Membran, 2004)
  • Live in Los Angeles at PJ's Club (Gambit, 2006)
  • Military Swing (2006)
  • Live at the Jazz Mill 1954, Vol. 2 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

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


  • 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.


  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]