Barney Kessel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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, California
GenresJazz, Pop, R&B, Rock
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Years active1940s–1992
LabelsContemporary, Reprise, Black Lion, Concord Jazz, RCA Victor, Sonet, Savoy

Barney Kessel (October 17, 1923 – May 6, 2004) was an American jazz guitarist born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Known 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.


Barney Kessel.jpg

Kessel was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1923 to a Jewish family.[1] Kessel's father was an immigrant from Hungary who owned a shoe shop.[2] His only formal musical study was three months of guitar lessons at the age of 12.[3] He 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 nicknamed him "Fruitcake" because he practiced up to 16 hours a day. Kessel gained attention because of his youth and being the only white musician playing in all African American band at black clubs.[4]

In the early 1940s, he moved to Los Angeles, where for one year he was a member of the Chico Marx big band.[5] He appeared in the film Jammin' the Blues, which featured Lester Young.[5][6] Soon after, he played in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw.[6] During the day, he worked as a studio musician and at night played jazz in clubs.[5] In 1947, he recorded with Charlie Parker.[5] He worked in Jazz at the Philharmonic and for one year in the early 1950s he was a member of the Oscar Peterson trio.[5][6] After leaving the trio, he recorded several solo albums for Contemporary.[6] He recorded a series of albums with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne as The Poll Winners because the three of them often won polls conducted by Metronome and DownBeat magazines.[6] He was the guitarist on the album Julie Is Her Name (1955) by Julie London, which includes the standard "Cry Me a River", selling a million copies and demonstrated Kessel's chordal approach to guitar.[7]

During the 1960s, Kessel worked for Columbia Pictures and was a member of a band of session musicians 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."[8] He recorded with pop acts such as The Monkees and The Beach Boys and with jazz musicians Sonny Rollins and Art Tatum.[5] Kessel eventually left studio work to concentrate on his jazz career both onstage and on records. Along with solo work, he formed the ensemble Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis.[5]

Kessel was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, DownBeat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.[9]

From 1961 to 1974, Gibson Guitars manufactured the Barney Kessel artist signature guitars in Standard and Custom models.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Kessel was married to Gail Genovia Farmer in the 50s and 60s, and she is the mother of Kessel's only children, Dan Kessel and David Kessel. He was then married to Betty Jane (BJ) Baker for 16 years. The couple divorced in 1980. His third marriage to Joanne (Jo) Kessel lasted 10 years, and he was married to his fourth wife, Phyllis Kessel, for 12 years. Kessel's sons Dan Kessel (died Feb 2021) and David Kessel became record producers and session musicians, working with Phil Spector, John Lennon, Cher, Leonard Cohen,[11] The Ramones, Blondie, The Go-Go's and more.


Kessel was in poor health after suffering a stroke in 1992. He died from a brain tumor at his home in San Diego, California, on May 6, 2004, at the age of 80.[12]


As leader[edit]

  • Barney Kessel (Contemporary, 1954)
  • To Swing or Not to Swing (Contemporary, 1955)
  • Kessel Plays Standards (Contemporary, 1956)
  • Easy Like (Contemporary, 1956)
  • Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By (Contemporary, 1957)
  • The Poll Winners with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1957)
  • The Poll Winners Ride Again! with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1958)
  • Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet's Opera Carmen (Contemporary, 1959)
  • Some Like It Hot (Contemporary, 1959)
  • Poll Winners Three! with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1960)
  • Exploring the Scene! with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1960)
  • Bossa Nova Plus Big Band (Reprise, 1961)
  • El Tigre with Harold Land (Charlie Parker, 1962)
  • Let's Cook! (Contemporary, 1962)
  • Breakfast At Tiffany's (Reprise, 1962)
  • Barney Kessel's Swingin' Party (Contemporary, 1963)
  • Contemporary Latin Rhythms (Reprise, 1963)
  • On Fire (Emerald, 1965)
  • Kessel's Kit (RCA Victor, 1969)
  • Reflections in Rome (RCA Victor, 1969)
  • Hair Is Beautiful (Atlantic, 1969)
  • Feeling Free (Contemporary, 1969)
  • What's New... Barney Kessel? (Mercury, 1969)
  • Guitarra (RCA Camden, 1970)
  • Swinging Easy! (Black Lion, 1971)
  • I Remember Django with Stephane Grappelli (Black Lion, 1971)
  • Limehouse Blues with Stephane Grappelli (Freedom, 1972)
  • Summertime in Montreux (Black Lion, 1973)
  • Easy Moments with Carlos Pes (Gemelli, 1973)
  • Two Way Conversation with Red Mitchell (Sonet, 1974)
  • Barney (& Friends) Plays Kessel (Concord Jazz, 1975)
  • Just Friends (Sonet, 1975)
  • Blue Soul (Black Lion, 1975)
  • Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis (Concord Jazz, 1975)
  • The Poll Winners: Straight Ahead with Ray Brown, Shelly Manne (Contemporary, 1975)
  • Poor Butterfly with Herb Ellis (Concord Jazz, 1977)
  • Soaring (Concord Jazz, 1977)
  • Live at Sometime (Trio, 1977)
  • A Tribute to the Great Hollywood Stars with Junko Mine (Trio, 1977)
  • By Myself (Victor, 1977)
  • Great Guitars at the Winery with Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis (Concord Jazz, 1980)
  • Solo (Concord, 1983)
  • Great Guitars at Charlie's Georgetown (Concord Jazz, 1983)
  • Spontaneous Combustion with Monty Alexander (Contemporary, 1987)
  • Red Hot and Blues (Contemporary, 1988)
  • Autumn Leaves (Black Lion, 1989)
  • Great Guitars Live with Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis (Concord 2001)
  • Live at the Jazz Mill 1954 (Modern Harmonic, 2016)
  • Live at the Jazz Mill 1954 Vol. 2 (Modern Harmonic, 2018)

As sideman[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. OCLC 79391800.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • 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.
  • Summerfield, Maurice J.; Kessel, Barney (2008). Barney Kessel: A Jazz Legend. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN 978-1872639697.
  • Marshall, Wolf; Kessel, Barney (2009). Barney Kessel: A Step-by-Step Breakdown of His Guitar Styles and Techniques. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1423430476.


  1. ^ "About Barney Kessel". Retrieved March 22, 2023.
  2. ^ Bernstein, Adam (May 10, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  3. ^ Leonard Feather (1999). The biographical encyclopedia of jazz. Oxford University Press. p. 383. ISBN 978-0-19-507418-5.
  4. ^ Oliver, Myrna (May 9, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, innovative jazz guitarist". The Boston Globe.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e Yanow, Scott. "Barney Kessel". AllMusic. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  7. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music. Guinness. p. 210. ISBN 0-85112-732-0.
  8. ^ Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780312619749.
  9. ^ "Barney Kessel". June 12, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
  10. ^ "Gibson and Barney Kessel". July 11, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  11. ^ Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611.
  12. ^ Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times.

External links[edit]