Los Angeles, CA, Sept/October, 2021 – Noted Jazz guitarist Bruce Forman, who was mentored in his younger years by Jazz guitar icon Barney Kessel, recently acquired Kessel’s original guitar through a truly ‘miraculous’ route. Securing this long-sought treasure then inspired Forman to join forces with renowned Bassist John Clayton and noted Jazz Drummer Jeff Hamilton to perform as a trio for a new music CD entitled REUNION! What’s completely unique about any of this? Well, in addition to Forman playing Kessel’s guitar for the new REUNION! CD, Clayton played HIS MENTOR Ray Brown’s bass, and Hamilton played one of HIS MENTOR Shelley Manne’s favored drum sets on the new album!
The REUNION! CD will be released by Bruce Forman on Sunday, October 17, on what would have been Barney Kessel’s 98th birthday. Media Members: To listen to the selections from this CD, please CLICK HERE.
In addition, Forman, along with Alex Frank, a mentee of John Clayton, and Jake Reed, a mentee of Jeff Hamilton, will also be performing as a trio for a livestream performance entitled “REUNION! A Live Tribute to Barney Kessel and the Poll Winners” on October 17. For that event, Forman will be playing Kessel’s guitar, while Frank will play Ray Brown’s bass, and Reed will play Shelly Manne’s drums. The livestream will take place at 12PM/Pacific Time. Also to commemorate Kessel’s 98th birthday milestone. The LINK for that livestream show is
Regarding this truly unique project, Forman says, “In mid-2021, took possession of Barney Kessel’s guitar. Besides being a music icon, he was also my mentor and friend from the mid-1970s until his passing. After he died in 2004, I played Barney’s guitar each time I visited Phyllis, his widow. I did so until she decided to put the instrument up for auction. Barney was a truly remarkable musician – he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a very few titans of his instrument. But, incredibly, and perhaps unknown to many, he also spent decades as one of the creators of million-selling pop hits, working side-by-side with artists like Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys!”
Forman then describes a remarkable, almost “paranormal” experience, which further advanced the plot: “I was driving my car one day in early 2021, when I suddenly felt the presence of Barney Kessel sitting beside me! Not only had he been dead for many years, but I could even smell his cologne. While Barney’s ‘apparition’ was paying me a visit, I suddenly had the idea to check on the status of his guitar, to see IF the Colorado man who bought it from Phyllis at auction just MIGHT be interested in selling it to me. I phoned the man, and he told me that he had JUST DECIDED to sell the guitar THAT SAME DAY!, So, that’s how fate, karma, divine intervention, or whatever else you might call it, helped me get Barney’s guitar back!”
“Barney Kessel meant a lot to me,” Forman continues. “Besides being inspired by his recordings, I had the opportunity to hear him live countless times and shared the bandstand with him when I was in my early twenties in the mid ‘70s. I even got to tour with him! We played many times over the years and a long friendship developed. Now, through great fortune and some telepathic intervention, I have been able to take over as caretaker of Barney’s iconic Gibson ES-350, hollow-bodied, F-hole guitar – the one he acquired in the late 1940s and played on almost every gig and jazz recording, throughout his whole career.”
“For a long time, now, I’ve been pondering this question: Can a musical instrument possess someone’s soul? I’d respond – probably not. But it can help its player tell stories, bind generations, and bring people together. So, upon further consideration, maybe it does after all?” said Forman.
Phyllis Kessel, Barney Kessel’s widow, adds, “I am glad always to see attention brought to Barney Kessel with a new project. If he can’t be playing his guitar, he’d be happy that someone whose playing he admired is playing it and honoring his legacy with this new recording. Congratulations to Bruce Forman for his relentless passion to make this happen.”
Adds John Koenig, son of Contemporary Records Founder Les Koenig, “I’m thrilled that Bruce Forman made this new REUNION! album. It evokes the spirit of The Poll Winners records that my father produced in the ’50s and early ’60s with Barney Kessel, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. I knew all three of them well, but I was closest to Barney; I even studied guitar with him. I also knew Barney’s guitar which Bruce plays here. Given Bruce’s association with Barney, the fact that Barney’s wonderful guitar has found a new home with Bruce is, for me, a cosmically fitting outcome.”
Forman further explains the new REUNION! project: “My dream for a long time has been to reunite instruments played by Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne – these legends were known as ‘The Poll Winners’ – which was the title of an album they released in 1957 on Contemporary Records – the first of five hugely successful ‘Poll Winners’ albums they released between 1957 and 1960, along with a Reunion album in 1975. The original Poll Winners recordings, which in many ways established the guitar trio as a viable jazz ensemble, have been iconic for decades, both in the content and in the spontaneity that is emblematic of jazz. Barney Kessel, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne were all at the height of their creative powers at that time. Beginning in 1956, this trio of influential players each won multiple polls in DownBeat, Esquire, Melody Maker, Metronome and Playboy Magazine Jazz polls on their respective instruments.”
“Once I was able to acquire Barney’s guitar, I thought, how cool would it be if the instruments that were used by The Poll Winners were to be played TODAY by Barney’s, Ray’s and Shelly’s respective protégés? With the REUNION! project, I have done exactly that! Not so coincidentally, Ray Brown’s protégé John Clayton, and Shelly Manne’s protégé Jeff Hamilton, and I have actually played together over the decades in myriad situations (sometimes even with Kessel, Brown and/or Manne!) For us, the REUNION! project is like kids getting together and playing their parents instruments! It is also a story of how John and Jeff and I are tying our love of Jazz from the past to the present, all while keeping a willful and loving eye to the future.”
The REUNION! project is not a tribute in the classic sense. “We didn’t play any of The Poll Winners’ tunes or arrangements or solos on our new CD, but we did embrace the spirit of those seminal recordings as we made things up on the spot during our recording session. Just like Barney, Ray and Shelly did over sixty years ago. Those guys taught us these skills! The REUNION! project was really a dream come true for us. Our journey in paying respect to Barney, Ray and Shelly is one filled with love, joy and a great deal of admiration,” Forman concludes.
ABOUT BRUCE FORMAN/GUITARIST:
“Bruce Forman is one of the great lights of our age,” Barney Kessel, Jazz Times
Bruce Forman’s (age 65, a resident of Carmel Valley, CA.) life and musical journey provide an American saga that is still in full swing. His Texas origins, his early career in San Francisco and New York, and his years on the road, all contribute to the unique and highly personal vision that he demonstrates today. Bruce keeps a hectic touring schedule. He’s also got eighteen recordings as a leader, including his newest release, Junkyard Duo; countless sideman recordings including Ray Brown, Bobby Hutcherson, Roger Kellaway; soundtrack performances on three of Clint Eastwood’s distinguished films—most notably Academy Award-winning Million Dollar Baby; producer, arranger, acclaimed educator, in residence at USC’s Studio/Jazz Guitar Dept., when does Bruce Forman rest?
Deep immersion in American culture inspires Forman to contribute to the traditions that he drew from. Formanism (his trio project); original works like The Red Guitar; his popular podcast with Scott Henderson, GuitarWank; Cow Bop and the “road challenges” down historic byways like Route 66; JazzMasters Workshop; his newest project: Junkyard Duo…these are only the latest answers to the endless question that underlies Bruce Forman’s creativity. His music and life reflect every step of his journey, and demonstrate the awareness of an artist who’s very much at home in the world, and at the top of his form.
Forman’s show “The Red Guitar” is serious one-man theater, incorporating great musical virtuosity and storytelling skills to explore the obsessive demands that music places on its truest followers. Junkyard Duo, scavenging music from the edge of sound, uses an unusual sonic landscape to create a rich and exciting musical palette…hobo chic at its most utmost. And though he can shred bebop at blistering tempos with the best of ‘em, he is no urban snob. Cow Bop, Forman’s unique “western bebop” band, hit four separate charts with its CDs, Swingin’ Out West, Route 66, Too Hick for the Room and Cowlifornia Swing. Having won the Route 66 Challenge three times with Cow Bop, he created a linear music festival in 2013, establishing a new paradigm for touring and the use of social media, which included a collaborative mentoring model for young musicians. See: www.bruceforman.com
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