Barney Kessel (1923-2004) was born on October 17, 1923, in Muskogee, Oklahoma. By age 16, as a high school student, he was emulating Charlie Christian, playing his electric guitar with local blues bands and with the University of Oklahoma Dance Band.
In 1942 Barney Kessel made his way to Los Angeles and quickly established himself as a professional musician and a guitarist to be reckoned with. His first important job was with Chico Marx. He spent a year on the road with the Marx band and when he returned to Los Angeles he began pursuing a career in which he combined studio, radio and club work. During this time he was heard on recordings that featured Charlie Ventura, Roy Eldridge and Artie Shaw along with a string of radio appearances. It was also during this period that Barney Kessel appeared in the movie Jammin' The Blues.
In 1952 Barney Kessel joined the Norman Granz Philharmonic tour for one year, returning to Los Angeles again in 1953. Then, just ten years after arriving in Los Angles, he was at the top of his form, in high demand for studio and radio work, and ready to launch a recording career that would continue for almost 40 years.
Every guitarist who came up during the 1940's acknowledged the influence of Charlie Christian. But with Barney Kessel, this influence was the driving force that propelled his interest in the guitar. Barney Kessel has said that Charlie Christian was his idol and this enormous influence was most evident in Kessel's early recorded solos, especially those made with Charlie Ventura and Artie Shaw. It was not hard to imagine the hands of Charlie Christian playing these gems.
But, as with the other great guitarists, this influence became just one component of a broader and more individual Kessel style and technique. By the time Barney Kessel was making recordings under his own name in 1953 he was having as much influence on other guitarists as Christian had had on him. And, this influence continues today. In the Just Jazz Guitar Barney Kessel Tribute issue (September, 1997), Howard Alden says, "as far as I'm concerned, in the dictionary under Jazz Guitar there should simply be a picture of Barney Kessel".
Barney Kessel was truly everywhere as a musician. People who “had never heard of him” , heard him play. If you were a fan of Ricky Nelson in the 1950's and 1960's you heard Barney Kessel's guitar. If you listened to the popular radio shows in the 1950's you heard his guitar. When you saw a movie in the 1950's or 1960's you probably heard his guitar. In fact, he may have been one of the most recorded musicians in the history of recorded music.
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