Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel

American jazz guitarist
Date of Birth: 17.10.1923
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Barney Kessel
  2. Early Life
  3. Music Career

Biography of Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel was an American jazz guitarist and representative of the bebop movement. He was a member of many famous jazz ensembles, worked on soundtracks for films and television programs, and was a member of the group of session musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew." His remarkable combination of skill and artistry made Barney Kessel one of the most popular studio electric guitarists in Hollywood.

Barney Kessel

Early Life

Barney Kessel was born on October 17, 1923, in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He was a self-taught guitarist, picking up the instrument at the age of 12 and learning by copying the playing of guitarists he heard on the radio and records. As a high school student, he played with local dance bands until he joined Chico Marx, the older brother of the Marx Brothers comedy team, with whom he toured for about a year.

Barney Kessel

Barney quickly established himself as a talented guitarist and follower of Charlie Christian, one of the pioneers of bebop and cool jazz. In 1939, Charlie Christian came to Oklahoma City just to listen to the playing of the 16-year-old teenager and perform with him. In 1944, Kessel participated in the filming of the short film "Jammin' the Blues" alongside Lester Young (saxophone), Red Callender (tuba), Harry Edison (trumpet), Marlowe Morris (piano), Jo Jones (drums), and others. Barney was the only white performer in the film, so he stayed in the shadows, and his hands were stained with dark berry juice. In 1995, "Jammin' the Blues" was added to the National Film Registry of the United States and preserved in perpetuity in the Library of Congress as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.

Barney Kessel

Music Career

In February 1947, Kessel recorded at the "Dial Records" recording studio under the direction of saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker on the classic jazz session "Relaxin' at Camarillo," as well as participating in the recording of four albums titled "Charlie Parker on Dial." Thirty musicians worked on the album, recording 89 songs. Between 1947 and 1960, Barney Kessel repeatedly became the "number one guitarist" according to polls in magazines such as Esquire, Down Beat, and Playboy. His reputation among jazz professionals continued to grow, and in 1952, he joined pianist Oscar Peterson's trio (with jazz bassist Ray Brown), embarking on a year-long tour of 14 countries. It should be noted that the guitarist's position in Oscar Peterson's trio was the most challenging job since Peterson loved to play at a dizzying tempo. After Barney left the trio, he was replaced by Herb Ellis.

Barney Kessel

Kessel is known for his innovative work in guitar trios. In the 1950s, he recorded a series of albums called "The Poll Winners" with Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. Kessel played superbly on the recording of the popular love song "Cry Me a River" performed by Julie London. In addition, his three-volume album "Kessel Plays Standards" contains many of his best works from that time. By the end of the decade, he often played with saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and Kessel's guitar part can be heard in the composition "How High the Moon" from the album "Sonny Rollins And The Contemporary Leaders."

In 1958, Kessel created a jazz arrangement of Georges Bizet's "Carmen" called "Barney Kessel Plays Carmen" and recorded it with pianist Andre Previn. Another famous jazz arrangement by Kessel was a version of the wedding hymn "Here Comes the Bride."

The following decade, Kessel became the most in-demand guitarist in Hollywood and remained so for another 40 years. His guitar can be heard on hundreds of recordings, including popular songs, film soundtracks, and commercials. He worked with Phil Spector, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, and many other artists and groups. In one episode of the television series "Perry Mason," Kessel appeared in a small role as a jazz guitarist named Barney.

In 1961, the American guitar manufacturer Gibson introduced "The Barney Kessel" guitar model and continued production until 1973. One of the unique features of the instruments Kessel played was the combination of a 12-string guitar neck with a mandolin body.

In the 1970s, Kessel lived and performed in Europe for an extended period and conducted his seminar "The Effective Guitarist" around the world. His sons, David and Daniel, followed in their father's footsteps and became session musicians.

Kessel's final performances took place in early 1992 in Australia and New Zealand, preceded by a major tour of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Japan. On May 26, 1992, Barney Kessel suffered a stroke that greatly weakened his health. He no longer performed and dedicated himself to teaching, releasing an excellent textbook called "The Guitar" and several video courses. The musician passed away on May 6, 2004, from a brain tumor in San Diego, California, at the age of 80.

In Pete Townshend's 1983 album "Scoop," a British rock guitarist and composer, there is an instrumental composition dedicated to Kessel. It is aptly titled "To Barney Kessel."