Already in the vanguard of her art; Emily Remler's adventures in the mainly male world of the jazz guitar
New York — Jazz guitarists are hardly ever women, but Emily Remler - one of the most exciting young guitarists around - never gives the feeling that she's conscious of being one of the few women in what is still largely a man's world.
Only one thing concerns Emily - music. And that's probably part of the reason she's in the vanguard of jazz guitarists. It's remarkable, even among the most up-and-coming players, to see someone progress as fast as she has. Her music is melodic, adventurous, and endlessly inventive; she is steeped in jazz tradition and plays with a maturity of concept beyond her years. As one of her fellow musicians puts it, she ''starts from the inside and then goes out.''
New Jersey-born Remler started playing folk music when she was 10. She didn't take it too seriously at that time. ''I never really practiced - it was mainly for fun,'' she says. As far as jazz was concerned, she knew nothing about it - that is until her interest in music began to grow and she decided to enroll at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. There, for the first time, she heard and came to love the music of guitarists Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino and saxophonist John Coltrane.
In 1976 Emily moved to New Orleans, where she really had the chance to ''pay her dues,'' playing in a lot of different bands, in many styles, including a rhythm-and-blues band called ''Little Queenie and the Percolators.'' During this time she backed artists as varied as Michel Legrand, Nancy Wilson, Robert Goulet , Joel Gray, and Ben Vereen.
It was there that she met guitarist Herb Ellis, who, after hearing her play, declared, ''I'm going to make you a star!'' Within a few weeks she found herself playing at the Concord Jazz Festival in California with Ellis and ''The Great Guitars'' - Tal Farlow, Charlie Byrd, and Barnel Kessel. Herb Ellis has since remarked, ''I've been asked many times who I think is coming up on the guitar to carry on the tradition, and my unqualified choice is Emily.''
Emily displays a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, and often humorous approach to music and the music business. Utterly single-minded, when she is on the bandstand she is not concerned with show-biz hype, glamorous image, or anything nonmusical. A lesser musician might have to concern himself, or herself, with these things, but Remler - neat and professional on stage - carries the audience with her sheer mastery of the instrument and her seemingly endless flow of ideas , which serve to spur her fellow players on to a kind of intensity that nevertheless remains always musical.
Her recent engagement at the Blue Note here could be described as nothing less than thrilling, especially to this writer, who had heard her several months previously in the same club. The earlier engagement was excellent, but the latter one showed a more adventurous, inspired, and confident Remler than ever before.
Remler recalls that when she was at the Berklee school in Boston, ''I couldn't play yet.'' She describes how she reached her present level of proficiency on the guitar:
''I really worked hard. Like one summer I got started playing some be-bop, but I never could really play eighth notes. So what I did was sit down with the tape recorder and play with the metronome, just played all straight eighth notes. Also, I played chromatic exercises that I invented myself, and I imitated Pat Martino, or tried to sound like John Coltrane.''
A great believer in copying the solos of jazz greats, Emily spent a lot of time doing this, learning passages from solos and then developing them into her own ideas.
''I never could transcribe a whole chorus of anything. But I tell you, if you do it right, one idea can be as good as a whole solo. If you're resourceful enough, one good Wes Montgomery idea is enough to make a hundred in your mind - if it's strong enough.''
Emily has already played on two albums, and has just completed a third. She appeared on that first album, ''The Clayton Brothers'' (Concord CJ-138), as guest guitarist. The second album, ''Firefly'' (Concord CJ-162), she recorded un
der her own name with pianist Hank Jones, bassist Bob Maize, and drummer Jake Hanna. That recording included three of Emily's own compositions, and its release brought her extraordinary talent to the attention of jazz audiences. The third album, ''Take Two'' - with pianist James Williams, drummer Terry Clarke, and bassist Don Thompson - recently came out.
Emily is very happy with the musical result. ''I felt more prepared this time , because I had been working with Terry and Don for awhile before that.'' But she's not so thrilled about the cover photo. ''They used this picture of me from two years ago that's the worst picture ever taken of me - I look like a chipmunk!''
Although she's based in New York, Emily does a lot of traveling, usually doing guest appearances with local musicians in the towns where she is scheduled to play. When she's in New York, she uses Buddy Rich alumnus Mike Pellera on piano and Bob Moses on drums. She has used Eddie Gomez and Chip Jackson on bass, among others. But her dream is to get a steady group of her own and to be able to travel with them all the time.
''That's the only way to go. I'm always traveling, and it's rough playing with local rhythm sections. First of all I'm lonely in the motel room all day, and second of all, the players are not very good much of the time. But sometimes you'll get somebody good and it's refreshing.''