What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Barney Kessel

Continuing with our guitar legends series, I would like to present a column on Barney Kessel. Along with guitar giants like Tal Farlow, he was a great an innovator when it came to playing be-bop, and his soloing skills were truly awesome.

I regret that I never managed to catch Barney playing live, but he has a wealth of audio recordings and video taped performances still available. Disabled by a stroke 10 years ago, he has had to quite performing, however his legacy lives on. Following is a brief bio from the Oklahoma Jazz Artists website, and some other interesting links.

Barney Kessel -- Born: Muskogee, Oklahoma October 17, 1923

"Above all, the humanness of a performer should be apparent...the essence of a living being is greater than the music. The music is only an expression of that essence."

Articulate and passionate are two words that have been used to describe the playing of Barney Kessel. Praised by Wes Montgomery as a player who is "not just standing still at one level," Kessel was a pioneer of be-bop guitar, and continued to stand at the forefront of jazz guitar playing for five decades. Born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Kessel discovered jazz in his teens, and began playing guitar, an unusual instrument for a jazz musician in the 1930's, with an all-black band when he was 14 years old. But it was a chance encounter with guitar legend Charlie Christian in an Oklahoma City night club that gave Kessel the inspiration to move into the center stage. With Christian's encouragement, which included an offer to tell Benny Goodman about the promising young guitarist, Kessel developed into a first class jazz player, moving to California in 1942 and enjoying steady employment with Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet, and finally, the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In 1946, Charlie Parker asked Kessel to join his group, and recorded the classic "Relaxin' at Camarillo," with Kessel in early 1947.

Kessel's reputation continued to grow, and he was in the studio frequently, backing singers like Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. In 1952, Kessel became a member of the first Oscar Peterson Trio. The trio, with Barney Kessel, recorded "Tenderly," their first hit for Mercury Records and a song now identified with Oscar Peterson. The following year, Kessel began recording as a leader for Contemporary Records. He remained at the top of the jazz polls, winning Downbeat Guitarist of the Year repeatedly until he was unseated by Wes Montgomery a decade later.

After living in Europe for several years, Kessel continued in the tradition of southwestern influenced guitar in the 1970's by teaming up with fellow guitarists Herb Ellis from Texas, also a long-time alumnus of the Oscar Peterson trio, and Charlie Byrd, forming the group "Great Guitars." In 1992, a severe stroke put Barney Kessel permanently out of action, but his music lives as a testament of his creative genius and superb musicianship.

Barney Kessel Bio (Thanks to the Oklahoma Jazz Artists)

A tribute to Barney Kessel -- Reviewed by Cindy Benedetto: http://www.jazzguitar.com/features/kessel.html

SideNotes: I would like to remind all of our readers that the Just Jazz Guitar magazine is a essential tool for the budding young jazz guitarist (and even us not so young ones too!). Subscribe to the magazine and use their website a resource. You will be glad you did! Find them at http://www.justjazzguitar.com

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com, where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot in Jazz Guitar' columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc plays Heritage guitars and endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!)

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