Barney Kessel

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.

Barney Kessel
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
Associated actsThe Wrecking Crew, Great Guitars


He was Jewish.[1] 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 nicknamed him "Fruitcake" because he practiced up to 16 hours a day.

In the early 1940s he moved to Los Angeles, where for one year he was a member of the Chico Marx big band.[2] He appeared in the film Jammin' the Blues, which featured Lester Young.[2][3] Soon after, he played in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw.[3] During the day, he worked as a studio musician and at night played jazz in clubs.[2] In 1947 he recorded with Charlie Parker.[2] He worked in Jazz at the Philharmonic and for one year in the early 1950s he was a member of the Oscar Peterson trio.[2][3] After leaving the trio, he recorded several solo albums for Contemporary.[3] He recorded a series of albums with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne The Poll Winners because the three of them often won polls conducted by Metronome and DownBeat magazines.[3] He was the guitarist on the album Julie Is Her Name (1955) by Julie London, which includes the standard "Cry Me a River," which sold a million copies and demonstrated Kessel's chordal approach to guitar.[4]

During the 1960s, Kessel worked for Columbia Pictures and was a member of a band of sessions 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."[5] He recorded with pop acts such as The Monkees and The Beach Boys and with jazz musicians Sonny Rollins and Art Tatum.[2] He formed the ensemble Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis.[2]

Kessel was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, Down Beat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.[6]


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.[7]

Personal life

Kessel was married to B. J. Baker. They were divorced in 1980. Kessel's sons Dan and David became record producers and session musicians, working with Phil Spector, John Lennon, Cher, and Leonard Cohen.[8]


As leader

  • 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)
  • Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet's Opera Carmen (Contemporary, 1959)
  • Some Like It Hot (Contemporary, 1959)
  • The Poll Winners with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1957)
  • Poll Winners Three! with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1960)
  • Bossa Nova (Reprise, 1961)
  • El Tigre with Harold Land (Charlie Parker, 1962)
  • Let's Cook! (Contemporary, 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)
  • 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, 1976)
  • 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)
  • The Poll Winners Ride Again! with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown (Contemporary, 1990)
  • 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

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 Cher

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.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.


  2. Yanow, Scott (2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists. San Francisco: Backbeat. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
  3. Yanow, Scott. "Barney Kessel". AllMusic. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  4. Larkin, Colin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music. Guinness. p. 210. ISBN 0-85112-732-0.
  5. Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780312619749.
  6. "Barney Kessel". June 12, 2004. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
  7. Keepnews, Peter (May 8, 2004). "Barney Kessel, 80, a Guitarist With Legends of Jazz, Dies". The New York Times.
  8. Brown, Mick (2008). Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector. Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1400076611.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.