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American jazz guitarist
(1923-10-17)October 17, 1923 Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.
May 6, 2004(2004-05-06) (aged 80) San Diego, California
Barney Kessel (October 17, 1923 - May 6, 2004) was an American jazz guitarist born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Known 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 nicknamed him "Fruitcake" because he practiced up to 16 hours a day.
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." He recorded with pop acts such as The Monkees and The Beach Boys and with jazz musicians Sonny Rollins and Art Tatum. Kessel eventually left studio work to concentrate on his jazz career both onstage and on records. Along with solo work, he formed the ensemble Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis.
Kessel was rated the No. 1 guitarist in Esquire, DownBeat, and Playboy magazine polls between 1947 and 1960.
From 1961 to 1974, Gibson Guitars manufactured Barney Kessel artist signature guitars in Standard and Custom models.
Kessel was married to Gail Genovia Farmer in the 50s and 60s, and she is the mother of Kessel's only children, Dan Kessel and David Kessel. He was then married to Betty Jane (BJ) Baker for 16 years. The couple divorced in 1980. His 3rd wife Joanne (Jo) Kessel lasted 10 years, and he was married to his 4th wife, Phyllis Kessel, for 12 years. Barney Kessel died in 2004.
Kessel's sons Dan Kessel (deceased Feb 2021) and David Kessel (still alive!) became record producers and session musicians, working with Phil Spector, John Lennon, Cher, and Leonard Cohen.
The Ramones, Blondie, The Go-Go's and more.
Kessel was in poor health after suffering a stroke in 1992. He died from a brain tumor at his home in San Diego, California, on May 6, 2004, at the age of 80.
Evie Sands, Any Way That You Want Me (Rev-Ola, 1970)
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. ASINB0080YPG16. OCLC79391800.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Kessel, Barney (1992). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel: Guitar Solo. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN978-0793516438.
Kessel, Barney (1997). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel, Vol. 2. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN978-0793587056.
Kessel, Barney (2000). The Jazz Guitar Artistry of Barney Kessel, Vol. 3. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN978-0634023231.
Summerfield, Maurice J.; Kessel, Barney (2008). Barney Kessel: A Jazz Legend. Ashley Mark Publishing. ISBN978-1872639697.
Marshall, Wolf; Kessel, Barney (2009). Barney Kessel: A Step-by-Step Breakdown of His Guitar Styles and Techniques. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN978-1423430476.