Voltarol - related music

Friday, 17 October 2008

See Emily play

I was talking to Tony Oreshko the other day about our mutual enthusiasm for the late Emily Remler, a fine jazz guitarist from New York who was just beginning to emerge as a truly distinctive voice when she died of heart failure at the tragically young age of 32. Tony has written an essay about her on his website (see right for link) and I was reminiscing about having seen her play in, of all places, Berkhamsted in Buckinghamshire in the early 1980’s.

I first became aware of her when I was running a specialist guitar shop in partnership with luthier Richard Bartram (you’ll have to Google his web site - he’s asked me to remove the link from my pages because he’s convinced that the more links there are, the more spam he gets, and he’s up to his ears in spam!). We stocked a great many guitar records along with the instruments, amplifiers, accessories, strings, spares and sheet music, and I was importing a number of specialist labels which included the American jazz label, Concord. The label featured quite a few interesting guitar albums by the likes of Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Charlie Byrd, and George Barnes. As a consequence, when I saw the name ‘Emily Remler’ listed in such company I thought it might be worth stocking some of her albums. I was not disappointed. She was not a great player but she was very good. You could easily detect the influences on her playing and she did not yet have a distinctive voice of her own, but she was only in her very early twenties and it was clear that hers was a talent to be watched or rather, listened to.

At this time I was running a weekly jazz club at The Load of Hay in Uxbridge. (By an odd coincidence, my good friend Leigh Heggarty is about to launch a music venue there - see his blog under Leigh's mad world of... harps?!? He and I, in our Blue Five persona, played there together in about 1986.) I received a phone call one day from a fellow jazz promoter, who told me that the great Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander was touring England and had a spare date to fill. Was I interested in putting him on? The catch was that I only had five days in which to organise it! (If you are not familiar with his playing then here’s a clip of his trio playing ‘Satin Doll’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. Don’t be fooled by the little boogy intro…)

Needless to say, I was very interested in deed but knew that The Load of Hay did not have the capacity to make this into a financially viable event unless the ticket price was outrageously high. Despite the fact that there would be no way of advertising this except by word of mouth, I attempted to secure the use of Brunel University’s main hall. It was close by, it held enough people, it had a bar and would suit the occasion very well, provided that I could also hire in a Steinway and a piano tuner for the day…

The potential cost of the event was snowballing rapidly but I am nothing if not optimistic so after a frantic day of phoning and cajoling I was able to phone back and say “Yes please”, only to be told that the date had been snapped up by the Berkhamsted jazz club whilst I’d been running around like the proverbial azure-bottomed insect trying to make it happen. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I had been saved from the possibility of losing a lot of money (my best hope for this event was that I would have – with luck and a following wind – broken even) but on the other hand Monty Alexander would be playing within easy driving distance of my home. I bit the bullet and bought the tickets.

I think the gig was in Berkhamsted town hall and I think it was on a Saturday night, but I can’t be sure of either of those facts. What I can be sure of is that the evening’s music was kicked off by the Chas Burchell quintet, whose drummer, Al Merrit, I knew well and had worked with in the past. After their set there was an interval and then Monty Alexander took to the stage, accompanied by the rhythm section of Chas Burchell’s group – Al and a bass player who shall remain nameless. Monty quickly took exception to the bassist's whole choice of notes, intonation and ability to play generally, and proceeded to take him to task about it, eventually getting up from the piano, taking the bass from him and demonstrating the part himself. Finally, he handed the bass back to its owner and returned to the piano, played one tune and then announced that he would now be joined on stage by his wife – Emily Remler. Emily duly took to the stage and played for the rest of the evening.

I would like to report that it was a memorable night musically but I can’t in all honesty. I suspect that the pair of them were not playing at their best that night – it was never less than very good, but I can’t recall any details of the music at all, other than who was playing it. In fact, Emily was still developing. With each album that she released she became more distinctive, continuing to work mainly within a hard bop framework but occasionally venturing into bossa novas (she had worked with Astrud Gilberto for a while). However, her development was somewhat hampered by an ongoing heroin habit, and her early death (in 1990) came as no great surprise, sad though it was.

Then a few years ago, Richard Bartram played me an Emily Remler album that I didn’t know about. It was called ‘This Is Me’ and I was completely blown away by it. It was the last thing that she recorded and had been released posthumously. It marked an entirely new direction for her, consisting as it did entirely of original material - much of it with a strong Brazilian flavour – and it inhabited a much more contemporary environment. You could still hear traces of her original inspirations - Wes Montgomery and Herb Ellis - and she had also taken note of Pat Metheny, but there was something fresh and original about this album that really moved me. I was delighted when it was reissued a few years ago and I was able to own a copy. I still play it regularly but can never hear the last track on the album without feeling the tears well up with the knowledge that all that was promised by this album will never now be.

Here are a few clips that will give you an idea of what she was about. Sadly there are none of the ‘This Is Me’ material. Here she is playing one of her own - Brazilian flavoured -compositions called 'Nunca Mais' ('Never Again'), with John Abercrombie.

And here she is duetting on 'Stella by Starlight' with John Scofield (who, incidentally was the announcer for the previous clip).

For much more information and many more clips, including an interview with Emily, go to allthingsemily.com

Unfortunately, the CD has once again been deleted but you can buy it in MP3 download form at last.fm