JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO : Barney Kessel Still Has Some Guitar Left to Play

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Don’t shuffle jazz guitarist Barney Kessel into the old-timer’s bin, like one small-town journalist did recently.

“He made me sound like I was 95 years old,” lamented Kessel, who is a young 65 and opened a two-week run at Elario’s Wednesday night. Before the music, there was a sneak preview of a new KPBS-TV “Club Date” show featuring Kessel, which will air Friday and Tuesday. Kessel said his small-town review “was all complimentary, but in a kind of funny way. Like, ‘This old veteran is still in the game, he goes way back, but he’s still out there, and he’s got younger guys with him, he’s still presiding over them.’ ”

Kessel has a new album out, and initial reviews are positive, though some critics are saying it breaks no new ground.


“I know what they mean. There are no synthesizers, no electronics, no saxophone like David Sanborn. It doesn’t have fusion. But I don’t equate all of that with quality. Shakespeare didn’t break new ground. Neither did the Bible. Neither did “Paradise Lost.” But I’m interested in quality, not nostalgia.”

Kessel, who’s played with most of the greats (Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, to name but a few) has written fresh material for his new “Red, Hot and Blues” album, including “Blues for Bird,” his tribute to Charlie Parker.

“If I hadn’t written it and somebody had told me they’d found a record of an original blues by Parker, I’d believe he wrote this,” Kessel said.

After Elario’s, Kessel heads for Europe and several months of touring. First stops are Germany and Switzerland as part of an all-star tribute to Benny Goodman.

At Elario’s, the guitarist will be backed by San Diego the Mike Wofford Trio, featuring Wofford on piano, Jim Plank on drums and Bob Magnusson on bass.

Speaking of guitars. . . . No one in town makes guitar fanatics happier than the KSDS-FM (88.3) jock known to his fans as “T.” Every Wednesday at 8 p.m., his 8-year-old “Guitar Hour” on the San Diego City College station features some of the tastiest music around.


A typical program mixes established geniuses such as Joe Pass and Django Reinhardt with hot young finds including Tinsley Ellis, Jeff Healey and the Belgian Birelli Lagrene.

“I’m not a guitarist, I just love the instrument,” said T, who’s full name is Ted Tepsich. “This is the closest I could come to fulfilling my dreams. When I first started listening to jazz, guitarists were the big influence. There weren’t that many of them eight years ago. It’s easier to find good guitar music now.”

Tepsich makes his living as an operations manager at the station, and as a gardener for a nursery in Point Loma. He also has a strong following for his “Every Shade of Blue” show on KSDS, which he says is one of the few Saturday night radio blues showcases across the country. Tepsich breaks in only at the top and bottom of the hour so listeners can make pristine tapes of the program.

Saxman Spike Robinson, who did some post-symposium jamming at Diego’s Loft last weekend, opens a three-night run at the Loft tonight with pianist Ellyn Rucker and their quartet. Like Kessel, Robinson spends much of his time touring Europe. He will be there this spring and hopes to be play Japan next summer.

Robinson’s is an inspiring story. When he returned to the United States from military duty in 1951, jazz wasn’t happening. He eventually took an engineering job with Honeywell while he raised a family. By 1981, the kids had graduated, and, after a 30-year hiatus, he went back to his jazz career.

New albums include a session with trumpeter Harry (Sweets) Edison and a collaboration with pianist and synthesizer player Rob Mullins titled “The Odd Couple.”


Afternoons on KIFM (98.1) give occasional pleasure to fans of mainstream jazz, but, at night, “Lites Out Jazz” still rules. Although KIFM Programming Director Steve Huntington indicated more classical jazz cuts will make the night airwaves as they become available on CD, there’s no evidence of such a trend in the station’s January play list.

“Lites Out” stalwarts like Kenny G., Tom Grant, Lee Ritenour, and Anita Baker are carry-overs from the November list. Among the newcomers are Gerald Albright, Michel Camilo, Sadao Watanabe and Tanya Maria.

A surprising development is the inclusion of a pair of renovated rockers, Steve (Space Cowboy) Miller and Al (Year of the Cat) Stewart. Steve Winwood, veteran of the ‘60s band Traffic, has also been heard afternoons singing his funky new single “Holding On.”

“During the daytime, we don’t profess to be 100% jazz,” Huntington explained. “We play some adult contemporary, or pop. People shoot up the dial, they hear Winwood, and they stop. Then they hear a primo guitar piece by George Benson. They don’t know who it is, but they’re enjoying it. We hope to have a new ‘Lites Out’ fan.”

Compare KIFM’s list with the “heavy rotation” lineup at KSDS: Kessel’s “Red, Hot and Blues,” Phil Wood’s Little Big Band’s “Evolution,” the sound track from “Bird,” and guitarist Lagrene’s “Foreign Affairs.”

RIFFS: Solana’s, the restaurant and big band venue in Solana Beach, has become another local jazz casualty. Musically, the place is dead. For the moment, the owners are offering catering and private party accommodations. . . . Saxophonist Bill Shreeve’s Sextet appears through Saturday at the Rusty Pelican in La Jolla and Mondays this month at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island. . . . San Diego’s Flight 7, which has a new CD out, plays Humphrey’s on Sundays during January. . . . The “Club Date,” featuring guitarist Herb Ellis airs will air Wednesday and Jan. 29. Ellis and Kessel guest on each others shows.