‘Firefly’ is the debut of Emily Remler as a band leader. The album was released by Concord Jazz (CJ-162) in 1981. Below are the liner notes by renowned jazz critic Maggie Hawthorne.
Guitarist Emily Remler is a rarity – because the growth and flowering of any young and especially talented jazz musician is always a rare and special circumstance. At 24, she is also part of a generation that is bringing new blood, new perceptions (blended lovingly with some time-honored insights), and new vitality to American Jazz and carrying on those traditions of invention and improvisation and skill and feeling that have blessed jazz since its inception.
Women instrumentalists have not been all that numerous in the history of this music, although (aside from the women who have lent their singing voices to jazz) there have been quite a few outstanding pianists. But those women who preserved and made their marks in jazz – Melba Liston, Vi Redd, Margie Hyams, Mary Osborne, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akijoshi, among others – have made it a little easier for the current generation of women to assert itself in the music business. Brass and wind and rhythm section are no longer exclusively male in stage bands, territory bands, lounge groups, and small groups playing jazz in every part of the country. Thus we find Janice Robinson in the trombone section of the best contemporary bands, Barbara Donald’s searching trumpet visions, Mary Park’s sax in name bands and at festivals. And Emily Remler.
Currently, Remler finds herself forgoing a career as a jazz player in the midst of a fertile period for the music itself. At a precious 18, she graduated from Berklee College of Music with men several years older than herself – “and 40 men to each woman,” she recalls. Remler held her own there musically and continues to do so. “There aren’t that many really good musicians,” she says, “and choices should be made on that basis. Although sometimes I feel I have to be twice as good as a man to get a job.”
Just out of Berklee, she moved to New Orleans in 1976, where she set about earning her doctorate in the world of the working musician: she anchored Dick Stabile’s Fairmont – Roosevelt Hotel orchestra for two years; she played the Summer Pops series and backed a number of visiting stars – Michel Legrand, Ben Veeren, Nancy Wilson, Joel Gray – and was part of a stomping New Orleans rhythm and blues band, Little Queenie and the Percolators. All the while, she kept her own jazz group going.
The word began to get out on Emily Remler. Nancy Wilson was impressed enough to take her along to New York for concerts at the Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. When Herb Ellis played a New Orleans date, Emily asked for a lesson and three weeks later found herself on stage at the 1978 Concord Festival in company with Ellis, Monty Budwig and Jake Hanna.
By 1979 she had moved to New York, where she met bassist John Clayton, who invited her to be part of his Concord album, “All In The Family,”, with his brother Jeff, Roger Kelleway and Jeff Hamilton. She performed with Ellis and Charlie Byrd in Washington, D.C. In the past couple of years, she has worked with her own group in New York – in company with Eddie Gomez, Bob Moses, and other top flight players – and for the past year she has played a central role in the band of Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, now riding a surge of renewed popularity.
By August of 1981, she was appearing in her own right at the Concord Jazz Festival and at the Kool (formerly Newport) and Michigan Women’s Festival as well. A major step is her booking at the 1981 Berlin Jazz Days in a contemporary quintet with vibraharpist Dave Friedman, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, bassist Harvie Swartz and the French-Swiss drummer Daniel Humair.
Where would she like to go? Europe, Japan, the world. she wants to keep writing music and, not surprisingly, would “like to work enough to keep a steady group together for all of that.”
In this, her fist album as a leader, she is in sterling company: pianist Hank Jones, bassist Bob Maize and drummer Jake Hannah. Remler did the arrangements but she notes that there were no rehearsals – just considerable warmth and empathy. Unlike many guitarists, she enjoys having a piano in the group. “I like having the chords behind me, and I love having Hank there. He is such a mature musician and knows what to do an where to do it. Guitars, after all, have a limited keyboard and with the right pianist, who can get intelligent harmonically, we never get in each other’s way.”
The menu represents a cross-section of Remler’s interests, including two of her own pieces. “Strollin'” is Horace Silver’s, what Emily calls a “struttin'” tune from the pianist who brought funk to the sound of bop. “Look To The Sky” is a beautiful albeit not well known melody by Antonio Carlos Jobim, given a light and sinuous treatment.
In contrast, “Perk’s Blues” is Emily’s robust tribute to her time with The Percolators. (“I learned all about rhythm and blues form them. They were wonderful!”) The title tune, “The Firefly” was inspired by Remler’s abiding admiration for the music of Wes Montgomery. “It was written for my jazz group in New Orleans, and just falls into that question and answer form to easily.”
“Movin’ Along” is Montgomery’s 6/8 blues, dating from 1060 when he was emerging as a strong, original guitar voice, and Remler acknowledges his style by employing her thumb to state the line. She takes “A Taste of Honey,” and enduring movie theme, as the album’s only solo and follows it with McCoy Turner’s “Inception.” “It was written in the days right after Coltrane died,” says Remler, “when Tyner took the heart of ‘Trane’s band – himself, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison – and played exactly the kind of music I’d like to emulate.”
She moves from Tyner’s mid-60s post-bop to honor Duke Ellington with her treatment of his 1936 ballad, “In A Sentimental Mood.” “I love this tune,” she says, because of its descending bass line against the rising melody. That contrary motion! So I re-harmonized the melody. I didn’t know if Hank and the others would like it, but they did.” So do we all.