Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Remler, Emily

Guitarist Emily Remler emerged as one of the leading jazz voices on her instrument in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A strong adherent to the style of Wes Montgomery, she also drew on the work of saxophonist John Coltrane and trumpeter Clifford Brown to develop her signature sound, which combined the blues with bebop phrasing.

Remler's soloing style was rapid yet inviting and infused with warmth. After establishing herself quickly in an idiom dominated by men, she died at her creative prime, at the age of thirty-two from heart failure in Sydney, Australia.

Born into a Jewish family in New York City on September 18th, 1957, Remler grew up across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Her father was a meat broker and her mother worked in social services. Her brother, who later became a diplomat for the United States government, was also a guitarist. Remler first started playing the piano and when she was nine years old she was teaching herself to play Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix songs on her brother's guitar.

Remler graduated from Dwight Morrow High School at the age of sixteen and in the fall of 1974, several weeks shy of her seventeenth birthday, she enrolled in the Berklee College of Music. While in Boston, Remler studied jazz and Latin music but was prone to shyness. During the first few months she initially refused to perform in front of her professors but she quickly advanced, becoming proficient as both a reader and as a performer. Remler finished her studies at Berklee in 1976 and then packed her bags for New Orleans that fall.

While in New Orleans, Remler had rejoined her boyfriend guitarist Steve Masakowski, a fellow Berklee student and the two of them formed a group called Four Play. Remler continued her musical studies with Hank Mackie, a local guitarist and music store owner, and also taught guitar and played as many gigs as she could get. Her first big break came when she joined the house band at the Fairmont Hotel, which was led by Dick Stabile. It was here that she backed the likes of singers Nancy Wilson and Robert Goulet.

In 1977, guitarist Herb Ellis stopped in New Orleans to play an engagement at Le Club, and Remler had asked his help in fixing her Ellis model guitar. Ellis invited her back to his hotel room where the two jammed for several hours, prompting Ellis to invite Remler to play at the Concord Jazz Festival three weeks later with guitarist Charlie Byrd and bassist Ray Brown,core members of the Great Guitars group. Remler soon moved back to New York City, and by 1979 she was performing and backing up high profile acts in her hometown.

Remler accompanied Nancy Wilson at Carnegie Hall, as well as singer Astrud Gilberto, and whe made her first album appearance with the Clayton brothers on their 1980 Concord album It's All in the Family. It was through this association that Remler was offered a record deal by the Concord label, who released most of her material during her career. Remler's debut album for Concord, Firefly, came out in 1981.

Fireflywas a dazzling display of Remler's devotion to the art and history of the jazz guitar, as embodied by players like Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. On the title track Remler blazes through the changes at breakneck speed as she effortlessly solos up and down the neck of the guitar, with precise eighth note swing phrasing.

Remler also covered the Horace Silver song "Strollin',"showing her ease in the hard bop idiom, which is further cemented by the wonderful phrasing of pianist Hank Jones,who appeared on the album along with bassist Bob Maize and drummer Jake Hanna.

1981 was also a time for personal change in Remler's life as she married pianist Monty Alexander. In 1982, Remler was living in New York City and one of her guitar students was the son of Manny Fox, one of the producers of Sophisticated Ladies, a play that was being produced in Los Angeles. Actor-dancer Gregory Hines, who was cast in the show, was so struck by her reworking of the song "Satin Doll" that he became a guitar student of hers and she was invityed to play in the band for the production of the show.

She released her second album for Concord Jazz in 1982 entitled Take Two. It featured compositions by pianist McCoy Tyner and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley as well as an original tune from Alexander called "Eleuthra." The most inviting track from this album is Remler's original tune "Waltz for My Grandfather," a moving song in which Remler displays her strong harmonic vocabulary and couples it with a moving solo that is full of warmth and exploration.

Remler released two more albums in the early to mid 1980s, including 1983's Transition and 1984's Catwalk. Both albums marked a series of growth for her, particularly Catwalk, which featured all original compositions and her best known song "Mocha Spice." Transitions featured Remler exploring the work of such composers as Duke Ellington and pianist Keith Jarrett.

Remler maintained an active touring schedule after her divorce from Alexander in 1984. She released a duet album with fellow guitarist Larry Coryell in 1985 called Together, and was an artist in residence at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1988. Also in 1988, Remler recorded East to Wes, an album which featured the Clifford Brown composition "Daahoud." In 1989, Remler appeared on David Benoit's album Waiting for Spring and also toured New Zealand and Australia.

While on tour in Australia, staying at the home of musician Ed Gaston, she died suddenly from heart failure on May 4th, 1990. While speculation that drugs played a role in her death has swirled around these tragic events, no evidence has emerged that she died from a drug overdose or an acute intoxication of any kind.

In her brief career, Emily Remler did a great deal to dispel prejudices against women in jazz, with the sheer weight of her talent and passionate dedication which took her all the way to the top. Sadly, the world only got a small taste of Remler's capabilities.

Select Discography

As Emily Remler

Firefly (Concord, 1981)

Take Two (Concord, 1982)

Transitions (Concord, 1983)

Catwalk (Concord, 1984)

Together duet w/Larry Coryell (1985)

East to Wes (Concord, 1988)

Contributor: Jared Pauley