Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Three Sounds [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“AT this writing it has been just a little over two years since the Three Sounds, a group formed in South Bend in 1956 and later based in Washington, D. C., arrived in New York City for its first gig. Not long afterward, Alfred Lion had corralled the trio into the studios for an initial LP date, Introducing The 3 Sounds, (Blue Note 1600).

It is common knowledge by now that the Sounds have established themselves firmly on the jazz scene from coast to coast (currently they are playing to enthusiastic audiences at the Zebra Lounge in Los Angeles). Their progress is remarkable; first, because a piano-bass-drums group, having the commonest of all trio instrumentations, is the hardest kind to lift out of the musical and economic rut; second, because the Sounds managed to accomplish this with precious little help from the critics.

In a sense it might be said that the critics did help, but inadvertently. A negative review of their first LP, published in Down Beat, was cast in such clearly exaggerated terms that a wave of sympathy reaction resulted. Their second album, Bottoms Up (Blue Note 4014), received a four-star (very good) rating in the same publication; but by that time the Sounds had already been solidly established with a substantial following of fans. It is entirely possible that had the first LP been assigned to the same reviewer who covered the second, it too would have been rated four stars, since the two albums were virtually identical in musical concept and execution.”
- Leonard Feather, insert notes to Moods [Blue Note 4044]

DURING the mid-to-late 50's, jazz piano trios sprung up across the nation. Perhaps it was the popularity of Oscar Peterson or Errol Garner or the stylization of the intimate image a piano trio can evoke, but for whatever reason, the piano trio explosion was in full gear. There was The Ahmad Jama! Trio, The Red Garland Trio, The Ray Bryant Trio, The Bill Evans Trio, The Ramsey Lewis Trio just to name a few. They were all modern jazz units. Some trios served as the core group backing up a singer. Ella Fitzgerald had The Tommy Flanagan Trio, Joe Zawinul's Trio backed up Dinah Washington (after Wynton Kelly's trio had done the same).

The Art of the Trio is taken by jazz musicians as seriously as the Art of the Fugue is studied by organists. Even though the basic instrumentation is the same (piano, bass and drums), an avid listener could easily discern the differences between the Hampton Hawes Trio and The Sonny Clark Trio. Each trio had its own signature, a way of weaving various influences into a cohesive statement and direction.

The THREE SOUNDS were part of the trio explosion. …

The THREE SOUNDS had a natural chemistry and beautiful rapport with the audience. The national audience began to build for the group, and soon the THREE SOUNDS were playing clubs across the country. The group did very well in the booming jukebox business evidenced by the large number of singles that Blue Note released on 45-rpm vinyl.
Alfred Lion's strategy for the group was simple; record them as often as possible, playing material rehearsed in clubs and fine tuned for the recording session. Sometimes a single session would yield not one, but two LP's worth of material. Over the course of 5 years (1958-62, the 'classic' trio years), the "Sounds" released 9 LP's.
- Bob Belden, insert notes to Standards [Blue Note CDP-21281]

"This is the trio I've been waiting for!"

"The Lighthouse is the best jazz club in the country!'

"You're presented respectfully like you're playing on a concert you're the star tonight, baby — you can't do anything wrong! And you never
lose the closeness of the audience there. The people are up tight and right next to feels like they're breathing down your throat digging everything every minute. The Lighthouse is beautiful, and I'm delighted we recorded there."
- Pianist Gene Harris to Herb Wong, insert notes to The Three Sounds: Live at The Lighthouse [Blue Note CDP 7243 5 23995 2 9]

“This is the second of only three occasions that this group was captured live, the last being at the It Club in 1970 with Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. It's a pity they didn't do more. In a club setting, their range, groove and interaction with the audience made for exciting music.”
- Michael Cuscuna, Producer, The Three Sounds: Live at The Lighthouse [Blue Note CDP 7243 5 23995 2 9]

The Loa Jazz Club was located on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA and for about two years in 1987-1988, it was my hangout.

I was at a phase in my professional career during which working long hours was the rule rather than the exception. Since The Loa was located not too far from my office, I’d grab a bite to eat and then go over to the club to catch the early set.

The cozy club was divided into three listening areas: a front room, where a handful of tables and booths surrounded the bandstand; a middle room with about two dozen tables, and the bar area, with stools at the bar and along a wall. The sound system was first-rate, so everyone could hear the music equally well.

The Loa Jazz Club was owned by Mariko Omura who had a long involvement with Jazz including working as a disc jockey for Tokyo Broadcasting System in Japan from 1960 to 1973 and producing LPs with greats such as Sonny Stitt and Art Pepper for the Atlas label.

As Omura explained in an interview with Zan Stewart of The Los Angeles Times, “I’ve always had a desire to run a Jazz club and, when I was able to line up some investors in Japan, I opened the Loa, which means "eternal" in Hawaiian.

The club books both "name" artists such as Oscar Peterson, Dudley Moore, Benny Carter, J.J. Johnson and Tommy Flanagan, and lesser-known though excellent musicians such as guitarist Bruce Forman and pianist George Cables.”

Thursday was my favorite night at The Loa because that’s when bassist Ray Brown’s trio often performed and the atmosphere was pretty much the way Zan describes it in this excerpt from his review of the group at the club:

“On a recent Thursday night on the bandstand of the Loa jazz club, Ray Brown smiled and swayed as he played his upright bass.

He wasn't the only one who was happy. In the crowded, intimate Santa Monica nightspot, the audience appeared to be having a great time. As Brown's trio - sparked by earthy pianist Gene Harris and drummer Jeff Hamilton - got down , people smiled, rocked back and forth in their chairs, clapped their hands and tapped their feet in time to the music. More than occasionally, they shouted, ‘Yeah!’ and ‘All right!’
Three times during the group's performance, there was a rare sight in a jazz club: a standing ovation.
After the set, as Harris mingled with members of the audience, one patron grabbed him by the arm and exclaimed: “That was wonderful!’ Nearby, another customer was heard to say: ‘That was worth missing a little sleep for!’”

I first heard pianist Gene Harris about thirty years earlier when he first came to prominence as a member of The Three Sounds, a piano, bass and drums trio that made it recording debut on Blue Note Records.

Richard Cook, in his definitive Blue Note Records: The Biography, [London: Secker and Warburg, 2001 provides this background into how this association came about.

“Tirelessly, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff went on recording and releasing. Blue Note recorded sixty-eight sessions during 1958-9, not all of them producing results which Lion deemed worthy of release, but still setting an extraordinarily high standard for the label. There were several new names to add to the leadership roster: saxophonists Tina Brooks and Jackie McLean, trombonist Bennie Green, trumpeters Dizzy Reece and Donald Byrd, and pianists Walter Davis and Duke Pearson. But the most important additions to the ranks were two groups.

One was the Three Sounds [the other was the return of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers].

The piano trio was becoming one of the most popular of jazz units. Small enough to offer the kind of closely focused sound which wouldn't deter listeners who didn't want to try too hard with their jazz, it was still able to carry all the sophistications which a more committed follower expected. At least two figures outside the hard-bop arena - Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner - had won huge audiences with the format, often made up of people who rarely listened to any other kind of jazz (which is why Garner's Concert By the Sea album can still be found in old LP accumulations as a lone example of a jazz album). But besides Garner and Peterson, many younger pianists were following the format to considerable success, and soon every jazz label had at least one such trio on its books, playing what was often a kind of hip cocktail music: Red Garland at Prestige, Ahmad Jamal at Argo, Bill Evans at Riverside (though Evans was perhaps more self-consciously 'artistic', he probably appealed to much the same people who bought the other records).

Blue Note hadn't gone too far in that direction, but when he heard the trio from Washington DC called the Three Sounds, Lion went after that market in a serious way. The group had made a single set for Riverside with Nat Adderley, and when they arrived in New York, Lion signed them and cut some initial sessions on 16 and 28 September 1958, eventually released as Introducing The Three Sounds (BLP 1600). The trio was Gene Harris (piano), Andrew Simpkins (bass) and Bill Dowdy (drums), and that is the group which eventually cut sixteen albums for Blue Note over a ten-year period (only later on were Dowdy and then Simpkins replaced).

Although they had originally featured a saxophonist, it was when Harris took centre stage and began making the most benign and good-hearted improvisations on popular material that the Sounds began to click. Light, bluesy, discreetly swinging - Dowdy was a drummer who believed in gentle persuasion, not bullying or bravado - their music was almost a definition of jazz formula. Harris would state the melody, maybe out of tempo, maybe with his partners there; then take a chorus or two where he gradually built the genteel intensity and fashioned a modest improvisation, probably with some locked-hands touches along the way; then a return to the tune, with a tag at the close. The steady mid-tempo lope was the normal setting, but ballads -where Harris would really arpeggiate the melody line - might follow a funereal beat and double the duration.

As a result, all their records were the same. If you liked one of them, you'd like any one of them, and in one of those curious situations where the law of diminishing returns doesn't seem to apply, the Three Sounds sold consistently well over their Blue Note life. It didn't hurt that Lion released more than twenty singles off the various albums. As smart background music, the Three Sounds were as fine as anybody could wish.

Long after the trio ended, Harris continued as an old-school jazz entertainer, having spent most of his adult life pleasing crowds of one sort or another. The Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen, who toured with him in later years, recalled how it worked:

“Gene used to say that these people have come out to see us, and it's our job to give them a fantastic time. He used to say at the end of the evening, 'If you leave here with a smile on your face, remember that Gene Harris put it there.' I've never seen anyone turn a room of strangers into family that way. We never rehearsed. He'd do this big rubato solo piano introduction with no clue as to what's coming up. Then he'd just start playing and you had to be ready to jump in there. That's how he wanted it.”
- The Jazz Review, Issue 11, 2000.

The following video tribute to The Three Sounds uses On Green Dolphin Street from their Moods CD as an audio track. Leonard Feather offered these comments about the tune’s background and the trio’s arrangement.

On Green Dolphin Street is a Hollywood movie melody by Bronislaw Kaper, whose previous peripheral association with jazz came through part-authorship of All God's Children Got Rhythm. Here again Harris uses the extended-introduction technique, built here around the tonic chord, with the melody gently moving in against an E Flat pedal point and the second chorus swinging loosely in exuberant contrast. A return to the pedal point leads to a discreet fade at the end.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Brian Lynch - Peer Pressure [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In his incisive and informative insert notes for Brian Lynch's Peer Pressure, a Criss Cross recording [1029 CD], Mike Hennessy offers up the following rhetorical question – “Where are the Gillespies, Parkers, Rollinses, Getzes, J.J. Johnsons and Miles Davieses of the new Jazz generation? [To which he answers] “There aren’t any.”

Hennessy goes on to explain that the implication of this question and answer is “… intended to imply that the general level of [Jazz] artistry and creativity today is in a state of decline.”

To this charge, Hennessy offers two pertinent quotations, taken appropriately from members of today’s Jazz generation.

The first is from trumpeter Terence Blanchard: “The real problem is that people keep looking for new Dizzys, Birds and Tranes instead of judging the new generation of musicians on their own terms and evaluating their music objectively.  Why should they be expected to be clones of other musicians?”

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard’s partner at the time of this writing continues the sentiment by adding: “The general standard of playing among today’s young Jazz musicians is getting higher and higher all the time.”

Any doubt about the merit contained in these assertions by Blanchard and Harrison is further swept away by listening to the playing of the musicians that trumpeter Brian Lynch has assembled on Peer Pressure

After stints with the Horace Silver Quintet, the Mel Lewis big band and the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Peer Pressure was the first album that trumpeter Brian recorded under his own name.  On it, he is ably assisted by tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, his front-line mate with Horace’s quintet, and alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, also a member of Toshiko’s big band.

The cookin’ rhythm section is made-up of Kirk Lightsey on piano, Jay Anderson on bass and Victor Lewis on drums who was to spend most of the decade of the 1980s as Stan Getz’s drummer.

Here’s a sampling of the group in action on the title tune – Peer Pressure - which forms the sound track for this video tribute to Brian.

In evidence throughout the seven tracks on this album are the general high standards which Harrison uses to characterize the players on today’s Jazz scene.

A great deal of thought and care has gone into this recording from the standpoint of the selection of tunes and their sequence, the seeking out of Rudy van Gelder to engineer the recording in his inimitable style which makes the listener feel enveloped by the sound of the music, and especially, the high quality that went into the crafting of the solos.

Every one is listening to everyone else; adding something to what the soloist is saying through the use of background riffs and dynamics, pulsating bass lines, piano “comping” that’s just right and just enough, with the whole thing encapsulated by Lewis’ beautiful time-keeping and wonderful “kicks” and “licks.”

All of these qualities are discernible in the opening track of the CD; the rarely heard Thomasville, a looping blues by the trumpeter Tommy Turrentine that gives everyone a chance to get loose at a relaxed tempo that includes all three horn players trading four’s with Victor before Victor takes his own 12-bar solo.

This is followed by Park Avenue Petite another rarely heard tune, although this one is by Benny Golson one of modern Jazz’s prolific composers, and it becomes a beautifully played ballad feature for Lynch.

Sandwiched in between Peer Pressure and Change of Plan, two originals by Lynch, is a superb version of Horace Silver’s The Outlaw.

This composition is vintage Horace with its twists and turns containing all sorts of surprises due to its unusual structural form.  Like Ecaroh, it employs both 4/4 straight-ahead and Latin-inflected rhythmic passages, but The Outlaw does so within an asymmetric construction that employs two sections of thirteen [13] bars divided into seven [7] measures of straight-ahead 4/4 and six [6] of Latin rhythms, a ten [10] bar 4/4 section which acts as a bridge followed by a sixteen [16] bar Latin vamp [or Latin pedal] with a two [2] break that leads into the next solo.

It’s a masterpiece whose seemingly disparate parts generate a powerful “tension and release” effect that will leave you wanting to listen to this sprightly bit of musical magic over and over again.

We’ve used it as the audio track to the following video tribute to Art Farmer, one of Brian’s trumpet idols.

While we all miss the great musicians who created modern Jazz, the music on this recording is an example that their legacy of excellence in musicianship, creativity and improvisation lives on and that the music is in good hands.

Treat yourself – these guys can PLAY!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Emily Remler: Jazz Guitarist

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Her time is so sure, so flowing, that it’s as natural to her as breathing. So is her warmth - of tone and conception. Emily’s a natural story-teller, keeping the narrative line alive with an exact sense of dynamics and color.”
- Nat Hentoff, Jazz critic and writer

“Emily was equally adept at playing with or without a pick in such diverse styles as bop, jazz-rock, and Latin music; her playing incorporates fluid eighth-note passages, doublings at the octave in the manner of Wes Montgomery and blues phrasing.”
- Jim Ferguson, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“Remler's senseless early death (from heart failure while on tour in Australia) deprived us of a talent that seemed on the point of breakthrough. While her early role-models were conservative ones in terms of her instrument - Christian and Montgomery, specifically - her tough-minded improvising and affinity with hard-hitting rhythm sections let her push a mainstream style to its logical limits.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I never knew the circumstances of guitarist Emily Remler’s death until I read about them in the following essay and interview written and conducted by Gene Lees.

One moment she seemed to be a fixture on the Jazz scene of the 1980’s and the next thing I heard was that she didn’t make it out of the first year of the next decade.

She died on May 14, 1990 from heart failure that may have been caused by her addiction to opiates. She was thirty-two years old.

There’s too much talk these days about confronting demons, promoting self-help and good health through a variety of commercial means and developing greater self-awareness by a variety of consciousness-raising techniques.

Whatever the reasons for Emily’s self-destructive behavior and notwithstanding the many suggestions of what she could have done about them, I thought she was one heckuva Jazz guitarist and I’m sorry her voice has gone silent.

Not many musicians are good at playing Jazz. Emily was one who could play the music at a very high level and it was a tragedy to lose those talents at such a young age. Dying should be reserved for the old.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Emily on these pages with Gene’s essay serving as a form of tribute.

© -  Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Sometimes she wore a jump suit on the bandstand, playing with her eyes shut, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, the guitar slung on a shoulder strap, her faced tilted up as if she were imploring a god unknown to send her ideas. Other times she sat on a chair with her legs crossed tailor-fashion, seeming to embrace the instrument, like a little girl cuddling a doll. She was improbable: white, middle class, a product of the affluent Englewood Cliffs area of New Jersey, and she was, before she turned thirty, one of the finest jazz musicians of her generation.

If you know her work only from her Concord albums, excellent as it is, you have not encountered the scope of her playing. The albums are moderately conservative, middle-of-the-road jazz. I was impressed by them as they came onto the market in the course of the last seven years. Then, on November 14, 1987, in Pittsburgh, I noted that she was working in a club there and went to hear her. I was unprepared for the sheer strength of her playing. She was an extraordinarily daring player, edging close to the avant-garde, and she swung ferociously. There was also a deeply lyrical quality to her playing. I returned to hear her on two more nights.

The jazz world is a very small one, and there were rumors about her. The story was out that Emily Remler had fallen victim to what has often seemed—from a time before Charlie Parker—like the endemic curse of the jazz profession. Heroin. People who had never even met Emily Remler were troubled by the stories about her. But she seemed now to be on the rather long list of jazz musicians who had beaten the problem.

A three-year marriage to the brilliant Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander ended in 1985. He had tried to help her break her habit, but in the end it was too much for him to handle. They remained close.

That's what she was doing in Pittsburgh, working it out it away from the familiar haunts, working on the fears and self-doubts that had given rise to the problem. She was studying composition at the University of Pittsburgh with Bob Brookmeyer and, after that, with avant-garde composer David Stock.

She was born in Manhattan on, she said, September 18, 1957, the youngest of three children, her father a meat broker, her mother a psychological social worker, both born in Brooklyn. Her sister became a lawyer and her brother entered the U.S. diplomatic service. Emily never knew financial insecurity. The legend of the poor boy forging his way to the top in jazz is not entirely without foundation, and Louis Armstrong was its classic exemplar. But the majority of jazz musicians, black and white alike, have come from the comfortable middle class. So that part of her story is not as strange as it might seem.

She got interested in music through the folk movement, and then rock. What was atypical is that she had gone on to discover jazz, and then not only entered a field that has severely discriminated against women even while its practitioners have been in the forefront of the demand for racial equality, but became one of its most masterful young players.

In her book American Women in Jazz, Sally Placksin documents the cases of women of genuine ability who have been driven out of the profession, or at least pressed to pursue it only as a sort of hobby. There have been a number of excellent women jazz players, including Melba Listen, Carol Britto, Patty Bown, Mary Lou Williams, Margie Hyams, Billie Rogers, Patrice Rushen, and others whose names are forgotten because they succumbed to the pressures put on them by the men around them and simply quit, Lester Young's sister among them. The guitarist Mary Osborne told me that she had never felt that she has suffered from discrimination, but she is the only woman jazz player I ever heard say that. The fine alto saxophonist Vi Redd said she has suffered far more discrimination as a woman than she has as a black. Anne Patterson, who plays all the woodwinds from oboe on down, sometimes plays baritone saxophone in the Nat Pierce-Frank Capp Juggernaut band, and leads the all-woman band called Maiden Voyage, can tell you endless tales of discrimination. Marian McPartland says that when she has hired a woman, such as drummer Dottie Dodgion, for her trio, male musicians would ask not "How does she play?" but "What does she look like?"

Some years ago, Stan Getz played Donte's in North Hollywood. Playing piano in his group was Joanne Brackeen. She was at the top of her form that night. For some reason the place was full of piano players. Her playing was powerful, propulsive, wildly inventive — anything but the deferential and delicate music women jazz players are assumed to produce. And every one of those pianists was seriously upset by her, genuinely disturbed, including some highly accomplished musicians. So this phenomenon is real,

A few months after the Pittsburgh engagement, Emily played a job in Los Angeles. I spent an afternoon with her. Her room was on the second floor of the motel. Below it was the usual motel swimming pool overhung by the usual California palms, and the laughter of children rose in the usual California sunlight. There were bottles of Evian water on the dresser. Emily was wearing black slacks and a white blouse. She sat cross-legged on the bed. She was not small and, as she pointed out, she had large hands. The backs of them bore tracks — the scars left by needles, those wrinkled lines looking like tiny railroad tracks that I knew all too well from seeing them on Bill Evans. I suppose they bothered me more because I had never seen them on a woman. She had a rather large nose and she wasn't conventionally pretty, but there was something attractive about her. And something that made me feel protective toward her. She seemed so eager that day, looking to her future.

"You're one of those players who don't hold back," I said. "Jazz is not a holding-back music. Paul Desmond may have played delicately, but he didn't hold back. Bill Evans may have played with great sensitivity, but sensitivity is not an exclusively female quality."

Emily, who had a musical voice slightly colored by a New York City accent with softly dentalized d's and t's, said, "That's a point I was going to make. Music is sexless. I think everyone has something that is feminine, something that is masculine. I'm very confused about that as it is, now that I have opened myself up to having women as friends for a change, after hanging out with the guys my whole life and wanting to be one of the guys. I'm finding out how incredible women really are. When I see a woman that is good at what she does and is confident and does things with conviction — I guess 'confidence' is the key word here —I just admire her so much. Women inhibit themselves as a product of society, or what their mothers taught them, or whatever it was when you're coming up. Women get the message that they're supposed to get married, have children, that's their function, and that's it. My mother never gave me that message. It was always: Achieve. Do well. Maybe a little too much of that, which I drive myself crazy about. I grew up with this thought that anything I applied myself to, I could do."

Life expectancy at birth in nineteenth-century America was about thirty-five, not much different from what it had been during the Roman Empire. I pointed out to Emily that when a husband and wife had to have ten children in order that two or three might live to the adult years, there may have been some reason for the division of labor along sexual lines. But that has changed, and given the advancing destruction of our fragile environment by the effluvia of our own excessive population, women are gradually being allowed to do something other than breed.

"I'm not into sitting and crying about it," Emily said. "I'm into doing. I never was real bitter about the fact that there are so many bandleaders who have told me face to face that they couldn't hire me because I was a woman, or that there have been so many instances where I wasn't trusted musically, and drummers handled me with kid gloves because they figured my time wasn't strong,"

"Yeah, but Emily," I said, "realistically, a lot of guitar players have got flakey time."

Emily said, "It just so happens that I don't. That's something I'd like to talk about — the holding back thing that you mentioned. It seems that a lot of women don't get into the time, really hit it. That's a very big psychological trick. You have to be confident to be into the time like that. You have to know where it is. Herb Ellis said to me once, 'If you don't know, you don't know.' He meant someone who doesn't know that they're off, and that they don't know that they don't swing. And that's a huge subject. There are some people I play with that you can't not swing, it's so wonderful.

"You have to have your innate sense of the time, and you have to believe in yourself that your sense is correct. Especially when there's some big burly guy at the other side of the stage who doesn't like the fact that you're there anyway. And he's not going to give you an inch, he's not going to acknowledge that you're correct. You have to believe in yourself. In some ways I have a lot of belief in myself. I just know that women are going to come out more and more with this conviction, as soon as they work on themselves properly. Women can do anything, anyone can do anything. It never did occur to me to stay in one place and bitch about this, about how I wasn't given a chance. I think it gives me more merit — to get really good, so good that it doesn't matter. Okay, it sucks, being in this position. But: get so good that you surpass it.

"It's not going to hurt you to be a great player. That's what I wanted to be anyway. If that's part of the motivation, fine. But it's not part of the motivation any more. It was when I first started at Berklee. I'll show these guys!"

And she did. Emily was graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 1975. She said that she still played very badly at that time. "I had a boyfriend, a guitarist from New Orleans. The plan was that I would move down to New Orleans. On my way to New Orleans, I stopped in Long Beach Island on the shore in New Jersey, and rented a room, and proceeded to quit smoking cigarettes, and learn to play. In that two months, I lost twenty-five pounds. I was just on a discipline trip. I could have been a Spartan! I want to do that again! I know I'm capable of it. Will power is not the question. I have a tremendous amount of will power.

"After that I went down to New Orleans. I still wasn't very good, but I had a lot of ideas. The boyfriend, Steve Masakowski, was an incredible guitarist, and still is, and still lives in New Orleans. He's a monster. The competitive atmosphere was still there, because I'd hear him practicing through the wall. I started to play all the shows at the Blue Room of the Fairmont Hotel, all the Vegas acts, Joel Grey, Ben Vereen, Robert Goulet, Nancy Wilson. I got a gig with her. Besides that, I was doing bebop gigs, Dixieland, and traditional New Orleans stuff. I had this thing, which I still have, to do it right. Don't sit and put this type of music down until you can do it as good as the best person who does it. For instance, I can't play country music like Roy Clark. Not that I would want to. But I have no right to say that that is invalid music. I like bluegrass a lot. And I'm into the Irish music that it comes from. I'm not, thank God, one of these snobby jazz musicians who put down everything except jazz.

"The reason I am so eclectic is that I get such satisfaction out of doing different types of music that sometimes I'm not sure what my true stuff is. I have confidence that the more I work on myself as a person, the more that the music is going to open up. I'll notice progress in sounding like my own voice and in my satisfaction in music by doing other things than practicing or playing. By figuring out things that have been bothering me for years, that clutter me up and make me have limits, and make me worried. Clearing me out of all sorts of things. For example, when you have a resentment against someone, let's say in the band, it clouds your ability to be creative, to be happy that evening. Sometimes you can turn it into so much anger that you can get into a weird I-don't-care stage, and sometimes you play good then. But if you work on those things, you can clear them out to get to your own voice. It's occurred to me in the last few years, it's not even the notes and the chords so much any more, it's the person. I never said more than two words to Bill Evans, I talked to him once, but I know what he was like.  I know it. I'm positive. I never met Wes Montgomery, but I knew what he was like before I asked every person who ever knew him. I knew what Joe Pass was like. He is exactly like he plays. Things come out in the playing. If the person has intelligence, and humor, and creativity, or is introverted."

"I know an outstanding exception, though," I said, and Emily said, "If you mean . . . " And she named a man the beauty of whose playing and the perversity of whose personality have always presented an irresoluble contradiction to other musicians. We both laughed hugely. "Actually," she said, "I've watched him over the years, and he's changed. There's a lot of good inside."

"The relationship of personality to playing is very strong in jazz," I said. "Jazz musicians, generally, even talk the way they play. They sing like they play."

"Yeah, I can see that, that they play the way they talk." Then she said, "What was Coltrane like?"

"Soft and gentle. A very sweet man. I liked him a lot. Tell me, how did you get from folk music to jazz, from Englewood Cliffs to Berklee in Boston?"

"During the Black Panther movement, we were bussed to the Englewood high school instead of the nearest one. We grew up with Italian and Jewish kids. I hadn't been exposed to black people, I was already listening to a lot of blues music. I just wanted to be friends. They didn't want to be friends with us. They beat us up, they stole our money, they burned white girls' hair—I had very long hair. It was very frightening. For that and a few other reasons, I cut school constantly. I just wasn't into it. I was into having parties and being a hippy, a very young hippy. So I was sent away to boarding school, but it was a hippy boarding school, an experimental school where you could do anything you wanted. It closed after the year I was there.

"During boarding school, I played folk music. I listened to rock music, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. I was about fifteen years old when I came to dream that I wanted to be a blues player, so I listened to B.B. King and Johnny Winter and all these people. I played my brother's Gibson ES 330, which I still play today. I have a few other guitars, but I keep coming back to that one. I played with my fingers, I did all sorts of strange things, but now I realize I was always working on my music. I was always singing along with things. I would sing along with Ravi Shankar's music for Bangla Desh, this whole raga piece, I could sing it from beginning to end. Weird stuff that my friends couldn't do. I had a weird ear. There was something different between the way they listened to music and the way I did. I remember we were listening to the Rolling Stones, which I loved. I was singing the saxophone solos and the guitar solos, I wasn't with the lyrics. I started playing some of the guitar things, the very repetitive rock things where they stay on three chords forever. I'd get off on that. I'd sit in my room, discovering that that was a way of leaving the planet. I loved that. Until this day, I've found that that's the best way for me to practice-—-just jamming. I realized when I was about twenty-one that I knew how to get better. There are a lot of people who study who don't feel they know how to get better. I was just out of Berklee, and it came to, 'Why don't I practice what I'm going to play?' From then on, I'd tape myself playing some backgrounds for the songs I was going to record. I put the metronome on to make sure I'm right. And then play over it. I still do it to this day. I'm getting a four-track for my bedroom.

"Schubert supposedly used to play guitar in bed," I said.

"I do that!" she said. "I used to sleep with my guitar. I'll just sit in my room and play a phrase over and over until I feel comfortable. And if I can't do something, I stop the tape and do it twenty times until I am comfortable."

"If you started out playing folk and rock things, when did you get beyond the phase of the grips and begin to see scales across the fingerboard?"

"That didn't happen till I was at Berklee."

"I've watched the way your hands work," I said. "You think a little as if you were playing a keyboard instrument."

"That really makes me happy that you can hear that. I think like a keyboard so much that sometimes I think it's bad. With me, I don't know about anybody else, if I can't hear the phrase, I won't be able to execute for anything. I play everything that I can sing or can hear, and I always was that way, and always will be. There are many people who play by rote. I don't look at the neck because I don't relate to patterns. I hear, I hear. I've tried to do guitaristic licks, and I screw them up. Even ones that I could get easily. Because I don't hear them right there in the music. George Benson said to me, 'You're great when you're playing what you believe in.' I cannot force myself to do what other people want me to do. It's very confusing, it's the way we're taught as we're growing up — that you do things the way that's acceptable to do, in some many aspects of life. You don't jump on cafe tables and yell. And all of a sudden, with what we've chosen to do in the arts, you're supposed to do what you really feel like doing. You live in a double life. You still don't jump on cafe tables and yell, but in your work you are supposed to do what you feel. So it's very common for musicians to be eccentric, and not conform. Because they can't just all of a sudden change. If I were to conform to the masses, I would have been a rock-and-roll guitarist, wearing silver suits." She laughed at herself. "Instead of red jumpsuits. I could have been very successful and rich doing that.

"In New Orleans, I learned to play. By the time I got back to New York, I was pretty good. I met Herb Ellis in New Orleans, and he recommended me for the Concord Festival, where I got to play with Ray Brown. I was twenty. Carl Jefferson told me that he was going to sign me [to the Concord Jazz label], I thought, 'This is it, my future is set.'

"They wanted me to be straight ahead. Since I want to do everything well, I decided that I would write tunes that were more like standards, learn a lot of standards, learn how to play within the limitations of jazz tonal progressions, get my chops up in bebop.

I needed a guide. And the people that I liked in those limits, straight-ahead mainstream bebop, were Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass and people like that. I pretty much copied them. I learned a new Wes Montgomery tune every day. I copied his phrasing. Above all, I copied his timing. He was unbelievable. But I didn't hear from Concord for a while, and I proceeded to move to New York, and I got a gig with Nancy Wilson. I also worked with Astrud Gilberto, and in Washington D.C., I ran into Herb Ellis again. I was a better player by then, and I got a contract with Concord."

"Back to that position of the transition from playing in that folk way, how did you do that? Through a teacher?"

"I never took a guitar lesson in my life, not really. I noticed that people who do things well do them with a minimum of effort. I learned basic scales and melody patterns so that I could vary in that vertical way. I decided, 'Why move up and down?' I've watched people, I watched myself in the mirror, I did scales and arpeggios, but I started right away doing melodies and finding the ways that other guitar players did them. You can, if you get good at transcribing, find from the timbre which string they're using. So I copied Pat Martino's way of doing things. He's a master of the instrument, his technique is astounding, you can count on him doing everything in the most logical way. And maybe I copied some of his fingerings, due to transcription.

There's a lot of illogical stuff that I do, though. I have to play everything that I hear, and there sometimes isn't time to work it out, and there's a lot of reaching for stuff in ridiculous positions that, I realize if I review it later, I could have done some other way. But I just have to get it somehow, and my will to get it is stronger than my knowledge of the guitar.

"For instance, I play solo guitar and try to back myself up with chords, like Lenny Breau did. But I do not have Lenny Breau's knowledge of the guitar."

"You do know," I said, "that Lenny was a totally intuitive player. He played entirely by ear, he'd had no formal training, and no knowledge of formal theory."

"We're talking about two different kinds of knowledge."

"Of course. His knowledge of the instrument itself was enormous."

"I agree. And I don't know the instrument the way he did. The thing I do best is ..." She laughed. "I'm resourceful. I'm a good hustler on the guitar. I'll hustle the phrase that I want, I'll work until I get it. It's the same thing I use to win at pool and pingpong without being the greatest pool or pingpong player. When I call on myself to put extra energy into a tune or a phrase, it's from the thing that makes me win at pingpong. It's just a will to do something."

"Now. We're onto a characteristic that is not generally considered feminine. Overt will. And throughout history, women's will has been suppressed and thus driven underground. Sometimes, when it isn't destroyed, it becomes devious. In order to get around men, many women will lie if necessary to get their way. Women are supposed to be submissive, but they have as much will as any man. They just hide it."

"You're right! I like that. It's something I am admiring more and more in women: will. I don't know. All I know is that the more I be like I'm supposed to be, the more I be like me, the better I get at music, I believe I have a tremendously strong will. I don't know what masculine or feminine is. I can tell you that I like the way dresses look, but I can't wear them onstage because I can't sit with my legs crossed all night. I don't deny that I'm a woman. And people say stuff about this, and have been doing it for years. Why don't you wear something more feminine, something flowing? It's just that I don't want a dress swaying when I move. The rest of the time, I like to be stylish, I like a lot of modern things. I'm split between two things. I love flowing, very sophisticated, very simple dresses. I don't like flowery or lacy things. I love dresses. But I love baggy pants too. It's strictly a matter of comfort. I don't identify masculine or feminine by what you wear. But people do. And how can you change millions of people?"

"I think it already is changing. Ever since Marlene Dietrich wore a pair of slacks in a movie. Look at the Scottish kilt, and the traditional old battle dress of Greek soldiers. Now, about this self-destructive business ..."

"We've noticed," she said, "how people of great creative talent often have a dark side that wants to destroy it and themselves. I'd say that the biggest fear for an artist is that if they stop destroying themselves, they won't have that other, good side. It's very easy to see the good side when you're doing bad. It's the one pure light that you have. You get to be afraid of a balance, of mediocrity, you get to be afraid that you won't get these brainstorms. How much more precious is it to succeed coming out of the gutter than it is to be comfortable and balanced and healthy. It's the misconception, but I have a feeling that a lot of musicians have problems with this — a feeling that they will not be able to create unless there's havoc and chaos."

"Well, a friend of mine said, 'Confronted with order, the artist will create disorder. Confronted with disorder, he will create order.' All creative people are perpetually trying to shake up the pick-up sticks: Let me create chaos so that I can create something out of it. Let's see if I can do that trick again."

Emily laughed. "So then, maybe I really should clean my apartment! Maybe if it was totally orderly, I could write better."

"No. That's not the point. When I am writing heavily, the room becomes a disaster area. And when I am through, I have to clean it up, because I can't go into the next phase of disorder without having cleared away the disorder from before. The artist needs raw clay to make the statue. If the only piece of clay I have is the statue I just made, which already bores me, then I will tear it apart to have the clay to make the next one. The process interests the artist more than the result, though he has to sell the result to make a living."

"So what's you're saying," Emily said, "is that this is totally normal. That's something to think about. I've been trying to get rid of it, and it hadn't occurred to me that maybe it's needed."

"Well there's a balance to be found, to be sure. I do know that many artists consider their neuroses are part of their talent, and cling to them. And sometimes they may be right. I know that depression goes with the creative process, and most psychiatrists know it too, and there assuredly is a manic quality about the compulsion to create art."

"What my therapist says is, Why am I creating this guilt and pain to create?"

"Nobody wants unhappiness. If you can get rid of it, get rid of it. On the other hand, if you get a good tune out of your guilt, play it. The artist is just that selfish and just that ruthless. It's like William Faulkner's comment in his Nobel acceptance speech, which shocked everybody. He said that the Ode on a Grecian Urn was worth any number of little old ladies."

Emily giggled. "It's unbelievable, isn't? After Monty and I were divorced I played great for a while on that pain. I really did. I also tried to destroy myself as fast as I could.

"You know, I had a strange experience in Michigan about ten years ago. As you might imagine, I've had a lot of requests to play with all-female groups. And when I was twenty-one, some very good musicians had this band and asked me to do a gig in Michigan, good money and just one set. I was going to get out of New York for a couple of days and be in the Michigan lake country. It was a very enlightening experience. It was eight thousand gay women. They have a different language to desex the language. Woman, singular, is womon. Women, plural, is womyn, for example.

"It's one thing to accept that sort of thing, but it is quite another to be in the severe minority. I felt weird. But there were some things I really loved about it. There was no bullshitting. There was no manipulating with charm. It didn't matter what you wore, whether you combed your hair even. People were taken for what they were, not what they looked like. And the view on beauty was a lot different than Hugh Hefner's standard.

"I was with one of the girls in the band. A woman we would consider fat walked by and I heard a girl say, 'Isn't she beautiful?' Look, I personally know women who stick their fingers down their throats to try to lose ten pounds. And there are a hell of a lot of schoolgirls developing complexes about being thin. I had that problem.

"There is a psychiatrist here in Pittsburgh who says that the people with the lowest self-esteem are the ones with the most gifts. This psychiatrist says that 99 percent of the problems he deals with, even to psychosis, are based on distorted self-perception, low self-esteem. I was raised to think that if I was thin, people would like me more. And the truth is that I'm not built that way. My body has a tendency to be a certain weight, but I have not accepted it my whole life. To me, I seem overweight. It was very interesting at that gay thing in Michigan to see that they don't have that perception, they canned all that. I'll tell you something else: there are a lot of women in this world who are using drugs to stay thin. They're killing themselves, their bodies, their souls, their minds, to be fifteen pounds lighter and please American society."

"What else has it done to you, being a woman in the jazz world, and a nonconformist in a conformist society?"

"Well, some musicians didn't trust me to be able to comp, which I love to do, and I feel I'm very good at it. If they want to play up the woman thing, women are trained to nurture people, make people feel good. I comp well. I can put my ego aside, as opposed to some other people who comp so loud and pushy, 'Look-at-me.' I know how to comp to make someone else sound good. I love to do it. It gets me out of myself. But I've ended up being a leader, more than a side man. Even at nineteen years old, the minute I could play a blues, they used to push me out front, because of the novelty. So I feel a little deprived. I wish someone would take me under their wing and teach me further, because that's how I get better, playing with great musicians. At this point now, I am ready to be a leader."

"You may be in the position," I said, "of having no choice but to be a quote star. I think Bill Evans passed beyond the possibility of being a side man."

"Yeah, but he was a side man with Miles. Do you think Miles would hire me?

"I wouldn't be surprised if he would."

"If I played with Miles, I would have to play some rock-and-roll and I wouldn't want to. But that's a matter of taste.

"I hear a lot of music that fuses rock and jazz together. And I find myself listening to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I'd rather hear the traditional rock-and-roll.

"The thing that makes me play with conviction is the same thing that makes me swim extra laps in the pool. It's from your gut. But I don't play from I'll show this guy. I notice that anybody who wants to cut anybody is not playing in the creative vein, and is not going to reach the peaks I want to reach. It's about letting go of yourself and becoming a channel — of love and God. That's what I believe. You can't do that by saying 'I'm going to show them this or that.' If I want to become a channel for God, which you can consider to be a lot of different things, you have to get rid of stuff, and be free."

I said, "I have to go and do my work in a cave, silently."

"That happens to me. I tune out as a protection. I tuned out for years as a protection."

"Well, look at Bix Beiderbecke, at Charlie Parker, there are all sorts of people who put up a chemical shield."

"Sure, because that makes you not care if the guy in the front row doesn't like you. That's why anger sometimes works, you can play better because you don't care. But it all comes down — I'm hoping this will take care of it — to feeling okay about yourself, that you deserve to be there, that you have something valid to say, that you have a lot of love to give, and you have a gift, and you have a right to be up there, and if somebody doesn't like it, that's his loss. That's the attitude I want. This guy can't make me or break me, this musician telling me to play this or that is not valid — it's what I feel. If I could get to that, I'd like to achieve it. I'm getting a little of it now.

"I was with a group in Europe last summer. Some drummers lack a little subtlety or they just prefer music that's loud and raucous. The feeling of aggression and speed is more what they're interested in. This isn't all drummers. This drummer said to me and what a lot of drummers have said to me, and that I bought and accepted, 'You gotta play louder, I can't hear you, you've gotta play harder. My favorite guitarists are Hendrix and McLaughlin, you oughta play more like them.' And I thought, 'Okay, I'll turn up my amp tonight and I'll play more rock and roll.' And then I stopped and said to myself, 'I can't believe I'm buying this package for the thousandth time.' And you see it's easier for him to tell me what to do because I'm a woman, and more important, it's easier for me to take it. And for the first time, I said back to him, 'Why don't you start listening to where I'm at? Why don't you come up to my level? Why don't you learn how to be romantic and subtle a little bit.'

"I couldn't believe I stood up for myself like that. So it's getting better, and the better it gets the better I'll be as a musician and the better I'll feel about that guy who doesn't like me.

"You should be a woman for a while and then you'd see. It's a hell of a lot different than you think."

Some time in the course of those days in Pittsburgh I asked Emily if she planned to stay there. No, she said. When she felt she was ready, she planned to move back to New York.

A month or so ago a pianist friend called me. He mentioned in the course of the conversation that he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous. "I never knew you had a problem with that," I said.

"It was mostly on the job," he said.

Somehow Emily Remler's name came up. He had never met her, and yet he said, in a voice soft with concern, "How is she doing?" And you knew exactly what he meant.

So I called her number in Pittsburgh. I was given a referral number, the area code being that of Brooklyn. I called it. After a year and a half in Pittsburgh, she was back in home terrain, living near Sheepshead Bay.

She had just completed a new album for Concord with Hank Jones. She was full of plans and the enthusiasm in her voice told me the answer to the question before I asked it. "How are you doing?" I said.

"I'm doing just fine," she said.

I was pulling for her. I wanted her to make it. Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan and Hal Gaylor and many more I know made it.

In May of 1990, I got a call from a friend who told me Emily had been found dead in her hotel room in Sydney, Australia. Whatever the proximate cause of her death, I could not help feeling there were other and underlying factors. Perhaps she died of being a woman in a profession dominated by men. Perhaps she died of the contradictions she lived with, her confusion about her own femininity. The sensitivity that makes it possible to produce good art makes life painful for those who possess it. Chemicals may not enhance the creativity, but they dull the pain, or seem to, for a little while. In the end they add to it.

Emily Remler was a superb musician, and on her way to being a great one. I will always see her sitting cross-legged on the bed, reaching out for life and looking like a little girl. She didn't make it.”

The following video features the title tune from Emily’s East to Wes Concord CD [4356] with Hank Jones on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums.