Barney Kessel (October 17, 1923 – May 6, 2004) was an American jazz guitarist born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Noted 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.
He was Jewish. Kessel began his career as a teenager touring with local dance bands. When he was 16, he started playing with the Oklahoma A&Mband, Hal Price & the Varsitonians. The band members nicknamed him “Fruitcake” because he practiced up to 16 hours a day.
In the early 1940s he moved to Los Angeles, where for one year he was a member of the Chico Marx big band. He appeared in the film Jammin’ the Blues, which featured Lester Young. Soon after, he played in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw. During the day, he worked as a studio musician and at night played jazz in clubs. In 1947 he recorded with Charlie Parker. He worked in Jazz at the Philharmonic and for one year in the early 1950s he was a member of the Oscar Peterson trio. After leaving the trio, he recorded several solo albums for Contemporary. He recorded a series of albums with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne as The Poll Winners because the three of them often won polls conducted by Metronome and DownBeat magazines. He was the guitarist on the album Julie Is Her Name (1955) by Julie London, which includes the standard “Cry Me a River,” which sold a million copies and demonstrated Kessel’s chordal approach to guitar.