(1923-2004 )

[Legendary Jazz Guitarist Barney Kessel]

Man can this guy swing! 

One of the true living jazz legends of the guitar. His chord melody conceptions are second to none. He can sound like a whole horn section, just by the way he "comps" with chords.

In my early years had a chance to study with Barney for a whole week, and I jumped at the chance. Eventually, I got to play with Barney in front of an audience, it was great!

Barney is one of the most positive people I know, and one of the first to deal with the mental aspects of learning jazz. He has always been encouraging, and very supportive to me much to my amazement, I was only a struggling guitar player, trying to be better. The fact he remembered me after years had passed, impressed the heck out of me. I wonder if he has a photographic memory like Oscar Peterson?

His attitude was severely challenged recently when he suffered a rather bad stroke. 

I was very saddend to hear him struggle trying to speak when he called me one day. 
I had a million questions to ask him that day, but I just couldn't put him through all that. It was enough that he called and wanted to know how I was doing. 

He is a real human being. And you know what? He still had that positive outgoing attitude. With that attitude, he will always be a winner. And speaking of winner, he won many jazz polls, and recorded the Jazz Poll winners series of recordings that are just wonderful. 

Anyway, he is one of the great jazz masters that is definitely worth checking out.

A few quotes from Barney:

"Playing scales is like a boxer skipping rope or punching a bag. It's not the thing in itself; it's preparatory to the activity"

"I'm not interested in a marketable product: I'm interested in what I know from my life experience to be standards of excellence"

Barney's Bio and CD list


Young Barney Picture and short bio

If you want to leave any words of appreciation and support to Barney, just drop me some email and I will see he get it. 

NEW!! the magazine Just Jazz Guitar is going to have a special issue just on Barney Kessel! Reserve your issue now!

Click here for a report of the Tribute to Barney Kessel gathering.

Kessel Stories is the page where I post letters to Barney.

Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies


Published: May 8, 2004

Barney Kessel, a guitarist who was both a celebrated jazz soloist and a ubiquitous but anonymous studio musician, died on Thursday at his home in San Diego. He was 80.

The cause was brain cancer, said his wife, Phyllis. Mr. Kessel had been inactive since a stroke in 1992, and he learned in 2001 that he had inoperable cancer.
By the mid-1950's Mr. Kessel was one of the most popular guitarists in jazz, a perennial winner of music magazine polls and a sideman whose résumé included work with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and countless others. But he still found it hard to pay his bills, so he began a second career in the studios, which came to dominate his professional life until he decided to return to jazz full time in the 1970's.

He was born in Muskogee, Okla., on Oct. 17, 1923, and began his professional career there at 14 as the only white musician in an otherwise all-black dance band.

Mr. Kessel initially modeled his style closely on that of the pioneering electric guitarist Charlie Christian, a fellow Oklahoman, and he continued to regard Christian as his main influence.

But when he had the opportunity to play with Christian at a jam session, he told The New York Times in 1991, the experience inspired him to develop a style of his own.

"I realized that I had been methodically lifting his ideas from records," Mr. Kessel said. "What was I going to play? All I knew was his stuff. There were two guys playing like Charlie Christian. I knew I had to find myself."

With Christian's encouragement, Mr. Kessel moved to Los Angeles in 1942 and was soon on the road with a band fronted by the comedian Chico Marx.

Over the next few years he worked with the big bands of Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman, establishing a reputation as one of the most versatile and reliable guitarists on the West Coast.

He soon began working regularly as a sideman for the record producer Norman Granz, and in 1944 he was one of the many musicians featured in "Jammin' the Blues," the acclaimed short jazz film produced by Granz and directed by the photographer Gjon Mili. (In a strange echo of his first job, Mr. Kessel was the only white musician in that film; all that was clearly visible of him were his hands, which were dyed black.)

Mr. Kessel's profile in the jazz world continued to grow in the 1950's. In 1952 he joined the pianist Oscar Peterson's trio and toured with Granz's all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic aggregation.

The next year he began his recording career as a leader with the first of a series of small-group albums for the Los Angeles-based Contemporary label.

Within a few years he had also become a fixture in Hollywood's recording studios. In this parallel career he could be heard on movie and television soundtracks and in television and radio commercials as well as on records by everyone from the Beach Boys to Liberace to Frank Sinatra.

In 1973 he joined forces with his fellow jazz guitarists Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd to form the group Great Guitars. In 1983 at 59 he made his New York nightclub debut as a leader.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kessel is survived by two sons from a previous marriage: Dan, of Hemet, Calif., and David, of Pacific Grove, Calif. Also surviving are three stepchildren: Christian Wand, of Los Angeles; Colette Wand Wirtschafter, of Marysville, Calif.; and Cleo Dougherty, of Boonton, N.J.; and five grandchildren.



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