Carl Kress: The famous American jazz guitarist

Born in Newark, New Jersey (USA), Carl Kress is one of America’s most celebrated jazz guitarists. Little-known in Europe, he has nevertheless been a very present and influential member of the American music scene for half a century.

This article takes a comprehensive look at the artist Carl Kress, from his beginnings to his remarkable contribution to the jazz movement.

Carl Kress: beginnings and influences

Carl Kress was born on September 5, 1902 in Newark, New Jersey (USA). He began learning classical guitar at the age of 10, thanks to the encouragement of his father, who was an amateur musician. At the age of 14, he began composing and playing his own pieces. It was then that he realized his passion for music.

He discovered jazz through local Newark artists such as Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, and began to study the genre. His style is mainly influenced by gypsy jazz and blues.

Career and renewal

In 1924, Kress began playing with Joe Venuti and Eddy Lang, appearing in various New York clubs. In 1928, he joined ” The Red Heads ” and made his first recordings, to immediate critical acclaim.

Kress became in great demand throughout America, playing with Benny Goodman, Art Tatum and Fats Waller, among others. He also took part in several studio recordings, and began to give regular concerts.

His career saw him perform on the greatest jazz stages, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. He was even invited to play at the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

His complete discography

carl kress discographie

As leader

  • Something Tender with George Barnes (United Artists, 1962)
  • Guitar Galaxies (Mercury, 1962)
  • Town Hall Concert with George Barnes (United Artists, 1963)
  • Guitars, Anyone? Why Not Start at the Top? with George Barnes (Carney, 1963)
  • The Guitar Genius of Dick McDonough & Carl Kress in the Thirties (Jazz Archives, 1976)
  • Two Guitars Volume 1 with George Barnes (Stash, 1983)
  • Two Guitars and a Horn Volume II with George Barnes, Bud Freeman (Stash, 1983)
  • Pioneers of the Jazz Guitar (Yazoo, 1992)

As a sideman

  • Louis Armstrong, Satchmo in Style (1959)
  • Bix Beiderbecke, The Bix Beiderbecke Story Volume 2: Bix and Tram (Columbia, 1952)
  • Erskine Butterfield, Just for Kicks (Livingston, 1955)
  • Helen Caroll, Singin’ & Swingin’ (Stere-O-Craft, 1958)
  • Bob Crosby, South Pacific Blows Warm (1958)
  • Jimmy Dorsey, Dixie by Dorsey (1950)
  • Jimmy McPartland, Shades of Bix (Brunswick, 1953)
  • Red Nichols, Rhythm of the Day (1983)
  • Jack Teagarden, Jazz Great (Bethlehem, 1955)
  • Jack Teagarden / Maxine Sullivan, My Memories of You (Everest, 1956)

Style and technique

Kress is renowned for his exceptional mastery of jazz guitar and his unique style. His innovative technique combined complex, harmonic melodies with fast, fluid solos. The guitarist also used effects that are still an integral part of the playing of most contemporary guitarists.

Kress was also a prolific composer. He composed hundreds of songs, which became essential jazz standards and are still played today. His most famous compositions include “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby”, “Rose Room” and “Ain’t Misbehavin”.


Kress is considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. His contribution to music has been far-reaching, and many of today’s guitarists seek to perpetuate his legacy. He is considered one of the key figures in the transition from swing to bebop.

But his contribution goes far beyond music. Kress helped bring jazz to the masses and change society’s perception of the genre. He is considered an ambassador for jazz and an example of how jazz can transcend social and cultural barriers.

Death and tributes

carl kress mort et hommages
Carl Kress death and tributes

Carl Kress died on April 25, 1965, at the age of 62. Following his death, several works were created to pay tribute to the guitarist. In 1999, the US Jazz Guitar Hall of Fame named him “King Of Jazz Guitarists”, and in 2001, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In conclusion

Carl Kress is considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. He is an example of the influence an artist can have on the world. His music, compositions and innovative technique continue to inspire us and point the way forward.

All you need to know about Carl Kress

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