Jazz guitarist, arranger, writer and producer Barney Kessel died Thursday (May 6) of brain cancer in San Diego, Calif. He was 80. He had been in ill health since suffering a debilitating stroke in Nov
Jazz guitarist, arranger, writer and producer Barney Kessel died Thursday (May 6) of brain cancer in San Diego, Calif. He was 80. He had been in ill health since suffering a debilitating stroke in November 2001.
Born in Muskogee, Okla., Kessel was influenced by the seminal jazz electric guitarist Charlie Christian. He began playing professionally at age 14. He worked with the big bands of Benny Goodman, Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers, Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw.
Kessel joined legendary bop altoist Charlie Parker's group in 1946. In the early '50s, he was a member, with bassist Ray Brown, of pianist Oscar Peterson's renowned trio. He also toured and recorded with Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young, and was part of Norman Granz's "Jazz at the Philharmonic" stable.
From 1956-1960 Kessel was head of A&R for Verve Records. He produced and played on many sessions for the label, and was instrumental in Imperial Records' signing of Ricky Nelson (whose father Ozzie had worked with Kessel during the big-band era).
As a sideman, Kessel worked with such talents as Ben Webster, Sarah Vaughan, Art Tatum, Anita O'Day, Benny Carter, Sonny Rollins and Billie Holiday. He also backed pop talents as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley.
He cut countless L.A. studio sessions, including many for producer Phil Spector, and was a much-coveted soundtrack player. He was heard in such classic pictures as Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" and Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot."
Kessel cut more than 60 albums as a leader or featured soloist. He toured widely with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as the Great Guitars.
In acknowledgment of his importance, Gibson Guitars produced a Barney Kessel model from 1961-1974.
Kessel is survived by his wife Phyllis and sons David and Dan.