Carl Kress (1907 - 1965) began his music career in the early 1920's in Newark, New Jersey, while still a teenager. Starting out on the piano, he progressed to the banjo and tenor guitar. As early as the late 1920's Carl Kress was an established musician playing and recording in such venues as the Paul Whiteman Band and with Red Nichols. During this period Kress was still playing the tenor guitar. Some of his earliest recordings with Whiteman and Nichols were made with the tenor guitar. Sometime around 1930 he moved to the six-string guitar, which remained his instrument of choice.
Although not the first or earliest adopter of the six-string guitar, Carl Kress was one of the more influential musicians to make this move. Known for his unorthodox tunings that created rich, full chords, unusual for the time, Kress was considered by his peers to be one of the important guitarists. He introduced a new style of playing rhythm guitar that clearly set him apart from his contemporaries and his move to the six string guitar probably encouraged others to make the same move.
In the 1930's Kress was in very high demand by orchestras and studios and as a result has left a significant number of recordings of his playing. It was during this period that he recorded extensively with Joe Venuti, the Boswell Sisters, Paul Whiteman and Adrian Rollini to name just a few. At the same time he was doing extensive radio work and he found time to make some duet recordings with Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough and Tony Mottola. It is these duet recordings along with those he made years later with George Barnes that established Kress' place in jazz guitar history.
The guitar duet form was not new when Kress took it up. Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson explored this form a few years earlier following what was already a long established blues guitar tradition. But when Carl Kress and Eddie Lang made their recordings of Pickin My Way and Feeling My Way, it was probably the first time two significant jazz players recorded in this form.
In the years immediately ahead (1934-1941) Kress made duet recordings with Dick McDonough and Tony Motolla. It is the Kress-McDonough duets of Stage Fright, Danzon, Heat Wave, and Chicken a la Swing, maybe even more than those of Kress-Barnes, that guitarists still emulate. These pieces, with the exception of Heat Wave, were written by Kress and McDonough for their guitars, and they are characterized by voicings and phrasings unique to the guitar.
After McDonough's death in 1938 Carl Kress made a couple of duet recordings with Tony Mottola and some solo guitar recordings of original compositions. He then continued very active studio, radio and TV work until he teamed up with George Barnes in 1961 to make a number of recordings including the famous, live Town Hall Concert.
Due to the popularity of the duets he made with George Barnes, Kress is often overlooked for the huge influence he had on jazz guitar and guitar playing in general. Long before he teamed up with George Barnes, he was a major figure in the transition from banjo to guitar and one of the primary exponents of an advanced chordal style and a unique style of rhythm playing that few have mastered.
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