Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Barney Kessel and Howard Alden

October 17

Today we celebrate the birthdays of two great jazz guitarists: the late Barney Kessel (1923-2004) and Howard Alden (1958). A bit of background first, though. The guitar goes back to the very earliest days of jazz. Although the banjo is more readily associated with early jazz, photographs prove that the guitar was there first. Here is Buddy Bolden’s band circa 1905.

The 1920’s and 30’s saw many acoustic guitarists distinguish themselves – Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt and George Van Eps. But it was the appearance of electric guitarist Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939 that created a whole new approach to the instrument, one that owed less to the chorded style of the acoustic players, and more to the single-note approach of horn players such as Lester Young.

Barney Kessel had heard Christian even before Goodman discovered him, and became one of his most inspired disciples. Kessell plays with Lester Young, Sid Catlett, Jo Jones, Harry Edison and others in this excerpt from classic 1944 short, Jammin’ The Blues.

This is a rare interview with Kessel talking about his instrument:

Kessel went on to a long career as an in-demand studio and jazz player, appearing on thousands concert stages and recordings. He made trio recordings with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne in the late 50’s that were very popular.

Howard Alden first attracted attention when jazz master Red Norvo began using him in his trio in the early 1980’s, and before long Alden became a major presence in a wide variety of jazz settings.

One of Alden’s most important projects was a series of albums with George Van Eps, one of the masters of the seven-string guitar, whose career went back to the 1920’s.

Hear them play a beautiful ballad:

In recent years,  saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen has chosen Alden for some sensitive chamber jazz. Here they play Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan: