shares this remembrance:
I first saw Emily in Cleveland, Ohio in December, 1983.
I was home from my freshman year of college for the holidays and a friend called me to say that Dick Lurie, (the owner of the local guitar school in Cleveland where pretty much everybody got their first guitar and lesson) was producing a concert featuring Herb Ellis and Emily Remler. I had never heard of Emily but was a huge fan of Herb Ellis and the Great Guitars and he knew my taste in music so when he said that I’d love Emily I didn’t hesitate to go.
We went to the concert which was held on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. There was a terrible snow storm that night. In fact, probably 90% of the people didn’t show up because of it but they decided to have the show anyways. Dick Lurie stepped out and told everybody that since so many people didn’t show up, those of us in the back were free to come down and fill up the front rows. So my friends and I got to sit right up front in the first few rows right in front of Emily and Herb. It was absolutely amazing. All the guitar teachers who worked at Dick Lurie’s Guitar Studio were there and I remember their jaws dropping collectively during the first tune when Emily broke out into her first solo. She was so hip – sitting onstage, she asked the audience if they’d mind if she took her shoes off and made herself comfortable. That was the first time I saw her trademark – playing barefoot with her eyes closed. I can’t remember much of what they played that night but we were blown away and I knew that I had to hear more of her music.
A few weeks later, I returned to school near New York City (I went to Sarah Lawrence College) and the week I got back I saw in the Village Voice that Emily was playing at Fat Tuesday’s – this time with Barney Kessell and Tal Farlow – two more of my favorites! So we all got tickets and went to this incredibly small jazz club in New York City where I saw her again. This time, we were so incredibly close that we literally had to lean back in our seats so that we wouldn’t crowd out the musicians. We were right on top of them. And it was another amazing set – really outstanding. I remember leaning over at one point and telling Emily that I’d seen her earlier in Cleveland and she was very excited about that. Quick side story. As we were waiting for the musicians to get ready at the beginning of their set, the house was playing a Benny Goodman recording with Charlie Christian on it. Barney Kessel started noodling along with it and then leaned over to tell Tal about how it was when he met Charlie Christian and he taught him that lick. Like I said, we were practically on top of them so I got to hear this little interchange about yet another of my heroes.
After the concert, my friends and I were walking out the door when I said aloud and to nobody in particular, “I wonder if she takes students”. My friends stopped and it was clear they weren’t going to let me go home without at least asking her, so they all waited while I went back into the room where they’d played and stood around waiting for a break in her conversation so that I could ask her. I was amazed at how receptive she was. She broke off from her conversation and took me aside and started chatting with me and I got her phone number. I can’t remember if I took my first lesson the very next day or not but it was very close to that Fat Tuesdays concert. That would be the Jazz Minor lesson.
Emily grew up in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I borrowed my girlfriend’s car and my friend’s tape recorder and drove out to her mother and father’s house in Englewood where she was staying while she was gigging in New York. Emily had just gotten her Borys guitar – in fact you’ll hear her telling me about it on that Jazz Minors tape. I guess that Dick Lurie had one and the builder told him to give it to her and he’d send Dick a replacement. So I remember Emily was really psyched about having the new guitar.
The thing about my lessons
is that her parents house was the only place I went more than once. Over the years, Emily would get in touch with me whenever she was in the New York area and we’d get together for a lesson wherever she was staying. Most of those places are a blur, but one lesson I do recall vividly was when she was involved with Larry Coryell and I had a lesson at their apartment. It was a very small apartment – only two rooms and a closet of a kitchenette. In one room was a bed and a grand piano. In the other room, six guitars, a bunch of cords, amps, effects and music all over the place. No furniture, no books, no dishes that I could see. A real insight into the life of a working jazz musician in New York City in the 80’s.
One of the best things about my lessons was that Emily always needed a ride somewhere after the lesson and I always had a car and plenty of time. So after just about every lesson, she’d jump in the car and I’d drive her to wherever she was going. I remember the first time driving her into New York City to her gig – I think it was at the Blue Note Jazz Club. We were stuck on the West Side Highway in bumper to bumper traffic. Emily was talking a mile a minute – telling me stories about her career – who she was playing with – and always continuing her discussions about our lessons and digressing on all sorts tangents on music theory. She didn’t even notice that I was purposefully missing all the exits so that we’d stay in the traffic jam and I could enjoy the conversation longer. We got to become pretty good friends during some of those rides. Emily had an interest in theology and philosophy and at the time, I was a philosophy major so we often talked about that stuff as well.
I remember once that my girlfriend (now my wife) picked me up after a lesson and we took Emily to her gig. She was telling us stories and giving directions – turn right, go straight, take a left, stop here. We were right in front of Carnegie Hall where she was playing that evening ( I think with Steve Morse and a bunch of other Berklee superstars).
Emily was extremely laid back.
Tons of fun actually – the absolute epitome of the jazz persona. I remember she’d call all the guys “cats” and all the girls “kittens”. When I played a really nice lick, she’d say things like, “smokin” and “daddy-o”. It was a blast. I’ve never met someone more organized musically. You will see that each of these lessons is a master class in itself that teaches some larger “principle” that can be applied to all jazz playing.