Jazz Lessons Barney Kessel jazz guitar chords

Published on January 5th, 2015 | by Sam


Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chord Licks

Barney Kessel was one of the greatest jazz guitar chord accompanists in the history of the music.  His playing has become a standard that many have emulated since.  In this lesson we are going to look at three essential jazz guitar chord devices that he used in his classic album with Julie London, Julie is Her Name.  The album mostly features them as a duo, but does include some drums and bass at times.

Jazz Guitar Chord Devices

I like to think of common licks that come up a lot as ‘devices.’  These are small ideas that tend to find their way into many guitarists’ and improvisors’ solos.  Typically, they can be defined more from a theory perspective instead of as a lick from a personality.

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords – Easy Street Intro – I VI ii V

This tune is a very bluesy one.  The intro uses the extremely common I VI ii V progression.  This set of voicings is really useful for this progression in particular.  One cool thing that Barney Kessel does in this particular performance is keeping a common tone (Ab) on the top of all of these voicings.  This lick could easily be transposed to other keys.  Also, he uses a Bbmi7 chord voicing that seems to be a pretty plain voicing.  BUT in this case it works really well.  Sometimes the simpler chord voicing sound really great especially when surrounded by some of the more interesting voicings.

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords – I Should Care – Diminished to Major

This lick has a ton of great stuff.  The opening bar is a Gmi7 to C7, but Barney uses a Bb/C and F#/C.  The Bb/C gives a Csus sound, resolving to F#/C, which gives a C7b9 sound.  This device is certainly a cool one, but one to try a bunch in the practice room before playing it behind a singer you don’t know!  The second bar features some of the same minor 7th chord voicings used in the Easy Street lick and some nice chromatic movements.

The part of the lick I want to highlight is the end.  Barney Kessel uses a classic jazz vocabulary move at the tonic I chord.  One way to spice up a resolution is to flat the third and fifth of the major 7th chord, which gives us basically a diminished with major 7th chord.  He does this at the Fmaj7 chord here.  In the open position it is fairly easy to get the diminished sound.  In other positions just find the 3rd and 5th and move them down a fret.  Try experimenting with this device any time you are going to a tonic major 7th chord.

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords – I Should Care Ending – Tadd Dameron Chords

The final essential jazz guitar chord lick features the Tadd Dameron chords.  Tadd Dameron wrote a classic tune called “Ladybird” which used a progression that has worked its way into the common language of jazz.  The progression went from a C to an Eb, Ab, Db, and finally back to C.  This can be substituted in many tunes’ endings.

Barney Kessel’s version of this has some pretty interesting voicings.  First of all, he keeps an F on the top of all the chords.  His Ab6 uses a nice perfect fifth interval at the bottom of the chord that is typically avoided.  It gives the chord a huge sound which works great for accompanying a singer.  The Db is a pretty standard voicing (that also has a perfect fifth).  The Gb voicing looks impossible at first!  Many of the classic jazz guitarists used their thumb to fret low notes in some chords.  So try wrapping your thumb around to grab the Gb.  Another way to play this chord is to use the ‘Van Eps Fifth Finger’ – which is barring your first finger diagonally from low E to high E.  It’s a little weird but can be really useful once you’re used to it.  The final chord is an F6/9 over a C.  The bassist in the recording plays the F.  If you were playing with a singer without a bassist, I would suggest putting an F in the bass and play the voicing down in the first position.

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chords

There you have three essential jazz guitar chord licks.  You can get a ton of mileage out of these three, so make sure to try forcing them into tunes (which helps you find a lot of places they work AND don’t work).  Also check out some of these other Barney Kessel articles.

Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chord Melody Accompaniment
Barney Kessel ii V Licks (coming soon!)

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