Local woman wants to honor Muskogee jazz legend
- By Harrison Grimwood Phoenix Staff Writer
- Jul 25, 2016
A downtown business owner and musician is looking to connect a Muskogee jazz legend with his roots on South Main Street through the second phase of the Muskogee Guitar project.
Lisa LaRue-Baker is raising funds to bring a seven-foot guitar that will be dedicated to the late Barney Kessel to the 200 block of South Main Street. That’s where the jazz legend learned to play while growing up.
“He learned to play the guitar and decided to go to L.A. while he was right here on South Main Street,” LaRue-Baker said. “So when they announced phase two of the guitars.…I just thought that it was a natural thing that Barney Kessel should have a tribute guitar.”
Kessel, an Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame inductee, grew up on South Main Street. As a youth, he saved his dollars he earned while working odd jobs to buy a six-string from a pawn shop. But his father, after Kessel progressed with the guitar, broke it, LaRue-Baker said.
Kessel’s father, a Russian immigrant, had become concerned his son would not learn a trade, Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Curator Ronald Boren said. His mother — several years later — bought her son a new guitar from Kroh’s Music on Broadway, paying $150 during the Great Depression, LaRue-Baker said.
The musical legend is credited with developing his flavor of jazz, which led him to a long career of recording and performing.
“He was born here, grew up here, learned to play here and, with this wonderful guitar project, I thought he definitely deserved one of these (Muskogee) guitars,” LaRue-Baker said.
For a brief time, about three days, Kessel spent time with Charles Christian in Oklahoma City, Boren said.
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“I want to say learning, but Barney stopped to a point because he didn’t want Charlie to influence his style too much,” Boren said.
Kessel planted his feet during the ‘40s in Los Angeles, where he later recorded for the ghost band The Wrecking Crew, Boren said. He recorded hundreds of pop songs as part of that crew, including Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and The Monkees.
“I’d always heard he’d got off the bus there with a dime in his pocket,” Boren said. “And he gently corrected me: He said, ‘No Ron, I got out there with a nickel in my pocket.’”
Kessel developed many of the jazz guitar techniques used today, LaRue-Baker said. Oklahoma’s jazz legacy runs deep, Boren said, referencing Christian and Kessel.
“Jammin’ the Blues”, a Warner Brothers’ short, 10-minute jam session, featured the “greatest jazz musicians in history,” Boren said. “And Barney Kessel of Muskogee is among them.”
Reach Harrison Grimwood at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can help
To contribute to the Barney Kessel guitar, donations may be made at gofundme.com/2dyce5g.