George Barnes was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 17, 1921, and came from a household that was full of artists! He began to play the guitar at 9 with his father who was his very first teacher. Barnes was raised in Chicago, a city that had actually ended up being a major center of jazz music advancement. He stated that his primary musical influences were Jimmy Noone (in whose band he played at the age of 16), Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong.
|One of several studio portraits of Broonzy. |
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As a youth George Barnes was associated with the excellent blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson who obviously had a major influence on him. He also listened to numerous records by the French gypsy jazz guitar player Django Reinhardt. At 14 Barnes already had his own jazz quartet. He won a Tommy Dorsey Amateur Swing Contest when he was 16 and at 17 was working on the Chicago NBC personnel staff as a guitar player, conductor, and arranger which was a truly amazing accomplishment!
During the seven years that preceded 1942, George Barnes was regularly included in tape-recording sessions with lots of legendary folk and blues artists including Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, and Blind John Davis. Upon leaving the military after the war, Barnes returned to a life which ended up becoming one of the busiest in jazz history. In 1951 he moved from Chicago to New York City. Here his phenomenal musical talents won him a job with Decca Records as arranger, guitarist, and composer.
Because of his multiple skills, George Barnes was much in demand for many years as a backing guitar player for top vocalists and jazz artists consisting of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong. He made many historical jazz recordings with his own numerous quartets and quintets however his most important contribution to jazz guitar history was his creative guitar duets with Carl Kress (and later Bucky Pizzarelli after the death of Kress) in addition to the quintet he led collectively with cornetist Ruby Braff.
Always a strong individualist, George Barnes had a really distinct sound partly due to his personally developed archtop jazz guitar constructed without the typical "F" sound holes. This instrument was made specifically for him by the Guild Guitar Company. He likewise utilized an unwound 3rd string which was unusual for a guitarist of his generation. In 1975 Barnes transferred to Concord, California. There he devoted his time to playing in jazz clubs, recording, and teaching until his death following a cardiac arrest on September 5, 1977.
Peabody Conservatory trained guitarist Steven Herron is an expert on jazz guitar playing styles. He has spent most of his adult life playing professionally at clubs and restaurants as well as teaching private students at his studio. Sign up now for his Free "Guitar Chord Harmonizations Report" and find out more about George Barnes guitar solos.
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