June 25, 1997 Danny & Sylvia Kaye Playhouse, New York City
Produced by Charles Carlini for the JVC Festival
Reviewed by Cindy Benedetto
It just might have been the most important night ever in jazz guitar history or at least one of the most (the other contender being the Tal Farlow Tribute last June). On June 25th, about 30 guitarists spanning 50 years of jazz turned out to honor a glowing Barney Kessel at a tribute to the jazz legend, part of the celebrated JVC Festival in New York City. Before Barney arrived, the 30 players had a great time backstage talking over old (and current!) times -- it was delightful to see them so excited to see each other -- many years had passed for some. Bob and I arrived early in the afternoon and were part of the wonderful "backstage party". The omnipresent Ed Benson, Publisher of Just Jazz Guitar, was there too, savoring the rehearsal performances and taking pictures for his forthcoming commemorative issue on Barney (due out August 1997). Even the prestigious Smithsonian Institution was represented, in the form of ardent jazz guitar enthusiast Randall Kremer. The excitement grew after Barney arrived and continued as the players, with Barney himself, took part in an outside group photo that is already a classic.
The concert was sensational. Just knowing these players were there to honor Barney made it special from the onset. (Due to time constraints, only 13 of the 30 who turned out to see Barney in the afternoon were able to perform.) Opening were Howard Alden and Jimmy Bruno, (well familiar with this duo, I could attest to their combined virtuosity before hearing them!) who wowed and warmed-up the audience. Excellent duo performances by veterans Joe Puma & Remo Palmier and Mundell Lowe & Sal Salvador followed. Of course, any tribute to Barney Kessel couldn't be complete without the Great Guitars, with the equally gifted Tal Farlow taking Barney's place alongside fellow legends Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. A very beautiful solo was performed by Gene Bertoncini. A personal treat for me was a terrific Kenny Burrell swinging with an equally terrific, young piano player named Jon Regen. The ever tasteful Jack Wilkins teamed up with a spirited Ron Affif for a beautiful set. The rhythm section was superb too: Joe Cohn, Earl May and Chuck Redd. Many of the songs played were classic ÒBarneyÓ tunes which was a treat. On a sad note, Atilla Zoller, due to poor health himself, was unable to perform but sent a nice note to Barney. Johnny Smith even sent a lovely letter which Charles read to the audience in between performances, along with other letters from close friends of Barney's who were absent, including Ray Brown. All the performances were very touching. It was clear to all playing (and all listening) that Barney himself was there and that they were playing for him. Not to be trite, but you would have had to be made of stone not to have felt the love and respect the players had for Barney and each other.
This very special night would not have been if not for the dedication and hard work of impresario extraordinaire Charles Carlini. Well-known for his Clinic Crafters jazz guitar seminars, Charles is a class act and knows how to organize and run a successful concert.
For me, and I think every one in that auditorium, the high point was midway through the concert when Barney walked with only a cane (unassisted for the first time since his stroke) to the microphone to thank everyone for his tribute. He received an instant standing ovation. It was a very emotional experience for him and the audience as well. While he had difficulty speaking, what he wanted to say came across. He thanked all his friends for coming out to see him and play for him. Charles Carlini, the JVC Festival and JVC founder George Wien, who also gave a short speech in honor of his old friend. Barney's lovely and dedicated wife Phyllis joined him on stage after a few moments to read to the audience a letter Barney had written. Among other things, it described the people Barney listened to growing up. The letter included mention of 'listening to Tony Mottola 5 days a week!' Tony and his son Tony were sitting next to Bob and me at the concert and I looked over at Tony's face when this part was read--he just beamed.
Bob and I wouldn't have missed this concert for anything. The tribute was a very moving experience and I don't think anyone there that night will ever forget it. I know I won't. It's not likely that that many great guitarists will ever be reunited again in one night. But knowing Charles Carlini, it just might happen!
Cynthia Benedetto 1997
Check out these great photos from the tribute
A Great Day In Manhattan: Back row: Peter Leitch, John Pizzarelli, Ray Gogarty, Frank Vignola, Vic Juris, Ron Affif, Howard Alden, John Abercrombie, and Jimmy Bruno. 2nd row: Gene Bertoncini, Billy Bauer, Don Arnone, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jack Wilkins, Wayne Wright, Tony Mottola, Sal Salvador and Randall Kremer (Smithsonian Institution). Front row: Charles Carlini (Producer of the tribute), Mundell Lowe, Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow and Bob Benedetto (not shown: Kenny Burrell). Photo: Rich Raezer
Left to right: Jack Wilkins, Howard Alden & Jimmy Bruno. Photo: Rich Raezer
Back row: Peter Leitch, JJG Publisher Ed Benson, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli and Bob Benedetto. 2nd row: Jimmy Bruno, Rich Raezer and Howard Alden. Front: Phyllis & Barney Kessel with Frank Forte. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
Mundell Lowe, Just Jazz Guitar Publisher Ed Benson and Sal Salvador backstage during rehearsals. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
Howard Alden, Bob Benedetto, Ed Benson, and Gene Bertoncini backstage. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
Producer Charles Carlini, Joe Puma, Mundell Lowe and Bob Benedetto backstage. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
Joe Puma and Remo Palmier durng rehearsal. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
JJG columnist Cindy Benedetto
and Randall Kremer (Smithsonian)
with Barney Kessel.
Photo: Rich Raezer
Barney with Bob Benedetto before Barney's Tribute Concert 6-25-97, NYC. Photo: Cindy Benedetto
Tal Farlow, Bob Benedetto and Kenny Burrell backstage after Barney Kessel Tribute. Photo: Cindy Benedetto