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Published on April 24th, 2012 | by Sam


Jazz Chords with Barney Kessel

Jazz Accompaniment with Barney Kessel

Barney Kessel has long been one of the greats in classic jazz guitar. You won’t find many surprises listening to him, but the things he plays are swinging, in the pocket, and stylistically amazing.

One of Kessel’s landmark recordings was the small group with Ray Leatherwood (one of the manliest names of all time!) and Julie London, called Julie is Her Name (Vol 1). The record is full of standards including a definitive version of “Cry Me A River.” Supposedly George Harrison listened to this record a lot and learned from it-though I have never found complete proof to back this up.

This lesson is going to take a look at the song “Can’t Help Loving Dat Man of Mine.” One thing that is striking about Kessel’s accompaniment is its simplicity. He rarely does any fills (until the end) and keeps the rhythm pretty simple. The voicings here are pretty typical, but if you haven’t played jazz for long they can be challenging.

Here are a few highlights that stick out to me:

  • It’s interesting to modern players that he sticks to many of the same voicings-particularly the Gbmaj7 to Eb7#9/Bb. This comes up 6 times in the tune and he plays the same voicings each time.
  • He also uses the tritone sub during the ii-V at the end of all the A sections. This sub gives it a very bluesy sound. The different thing here is that he substitutes the ii instead of the V, so you get bVI7 to V.
  • The diminished lick at the end of the A sections is also really great. Check out how he uses a vanilla Gb chord before the bridge!
  • During the bridge, Kessel calmly plays the diminished inversions (moving up by minor thirds). Other players tended to make this move much more dramatic (think Joe Pass and even Wes), so it’s pretty cool that he makes such a non-deal out of it.
  • The lick during the last A sections kills! He is playing thirds and side stepping into them from a half step below. The lick with the top note is a classic bebop lick.

One other overall note: Barney Kessel delivers exactly what’s needed to make this tune, and the other tracks on album, great tracks. He’s not concerned with showing off technique, impressive voicings, or another outside of making the songs sound great. That itself is a great lesson for any guitarist in any style.


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6 Responses to Jazz Chords with Barney Kessel

  1. Larry says:

    Hey Sam– thanks for this great post. My Dad took me to hear Barney Kessel (with Tal Farlow and Charlie Byrd) more than 30 years ago. As a young rocker, Barney was the only one of these players I could relate to at the time– he actually bent a string at once that night. I discovered that Julie London disc many years later ( and admired the spare tastefulness of Kessel’s playing. )And then the final coincidence, one of my daughters learned this song in 4th grade music class and came home belting it out! So I’m eager and grateful to put your transcription to work. Thanks again- I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Sam says:

      Larry, that’s a great story man! His playing is really killing. I had a really long break from him, but rediscovered him while searching out some of the country/jazz stuff and going through Charlie Christian’s thread of influence (which is really more like a ROPE of influence!) Really glad to hear that you’re into the Kessel transcription. Let me know how you do with it!

  2. Pablo says:

    Thanks a lot, you’re transcription is perfect, it really helped! :)

  3. Pingback: Sam Smiley Music5 Essential Barney Kessel Jazz Guitar Licks - Sam Smiley Music

  4. Pingback: Sam Smiley MusicBarney Kessel Jazz Guitar Chord Licks - Sam Smiley Music

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