This Historic Day In Music: Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel played Jazz on an electric guitar. He was considered by many to be one of the best Jazz guitarists in the post-Charlie Christian decades of the 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s.

I became acquainted with his playing through a pair of albums that I acquired back in my Down Beat, Guitar Player and Stereo Review magazine reading days. (There was, and still is, nothing like a well-written cover story or a rave record review in the latest issue of a monthly publication to start me planning on making a trip to my favorite record store.)

The first album I owned, “Straight Ahead,” came out in 1975. It featured Barney Kessel with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. This was the fifth collection that this trio recorded under the name: The Poll Winners.

My second purchase was titled “Poor Butterfly.” This Concord Jazz LP released in 1976 and showcased Barney trading licks with fellow Jazz guitarist Herb Ellis.

The analog tracks on both of these highly recommended albums are overflowing with the quintessential Jazz electric guitar sound that can only emanate from one source: a single pick-up, hollow-body archtop guitar strung with flat-wound strings and amplified through a basic, tube (not solid state!) amplifier with the lone enhancement of just a touch of spring reverb.

When such a rig is placed in the control of the hands, mind and heart of a player like Barney Kessel, the result is…

Well, why don’t you decide.

Listen to this.

Barney Kessel was born on October 17, 1923 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

He recorded his first album, “Swing Guitars,” in 1953. His brilliant and prolific career was cut short by a serious stroke that he suffered in 1992.

Barney Kessel passed away on May 6, 2004 in San Diego, California.

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