born on 17/10/1923 in Muskogee, OK, United States
died on 6/5/2004 in San Diego, CA, United States
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. He was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, Down Beat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.
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. 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 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. 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".
In 1956, Barney Kessel was introduced to the Kay Musical Instrument Company while playing at a local jazz club in Chicago. The next year, in 1957, he was offered three signature models, the K1700 (Pro), K6700 (Artist) and K8700 (Jazz Special) in the endorsement and each bore his signature etched into the underside of the pickguard. This was also the introduction of the "full kelvinator" headstock.
Barney Kessel was the winner of the prestigious Down Beat magazine readers poll in 1956, '57 and '58 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. In 2014, the Kay Guitar Company, working closely with Kessel's widow Phyllis, secured the licensing rights from the Kessel estate to reissue these three guitars.
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".
He played Mr. Spock's theme on bass, which first appeared in the Star Trek episode "Amok Time".
On Pete Townshend's 1983 album Scoop, Townshend paid homage to the guitarist with the instrumental song "To Barney Kessel".
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.
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.
- Easy Like (Contemporary 1953–55 )
- Kessel Plays Standards (Contemporary, 1954–55 ) re-release of Barney Kessel Volume 2
- 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 Lion, 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 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 Louis Bellson
- Skin Deep (Norgran, 1953)
With Benny Carter
- Alone Together (Norgran, 1952 )
- Cosmopolite (Norgran, 1952 )
- Jazz Giant (Contemporary, 1958)
With Buddy Collette
- Man of Many Parts (Contemporary, 1956)
With Buddy DeFranco
- Generalissimo (Verve 1959)
- Live Date (Verve 1959)
- Bravura (Verve 1959)
- Wailers (Verve 1960)
With Harry Edison
- Sweets (Clef, 1956)
- Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You (Verve, 1957)
With Roy Eldridge
- Dale's Wail (Clef, 1953)
With Ella Fitzgerald
- Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (Verve, 1956)
With Dexter Gordon and others
- Jazz Concert West Coast (1948) (Savoy 1956, Savoy Jazz 1985) (Nippon Columbia 3 - 40 min CDs 1992)
With Hampton Hawes
- Four! (Contemporary, 1958)
With Woody Herman
- Songs for Hip Lovers (Verve, 1957)
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)
- The Drum Battle (Verve, 1952 )
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)
- Art 'n' Zoot (Pablo, 1981 )
With Oscar Peterson
- First Quartet (Verve 1951)
With Shorty Rogers
- Martians Come Back! (Atlantic, 1955 )
- Way Up There (Atlantic, 1955 )
- Chances Are It Swings (RCA Victor, 1958)
- The Wizard of Oz and Other Harold Arlen Songs (RCA Victor, 1959)
With Sonny Rollins
- Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders (Contemporary, 1958)
With Sam Cooke
- Night Beat (RCA Victor, 1963)
With Pete Rugolo
- Out on a Limb (EmArcy, 1956)
- An Adventure in Sound: Reeds in Hi-Fi (Mercury, 1956 )
- An Adventure in Sound: Brass in Hi-Fi (Mercury 1956 )
- 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.
- Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times.
- Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611.