Sheryl Bailey Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“I took a lesson with Emily when she was living in Pittsburgh, and she was such a great teacher that everything she showed me that afternoon I still use everyday to this day. In preparing for the recording I went back and listened to everything she played on and even watched interviews to get her speaking voice and persona in my mind.”

Sheryl Bailey

Sheryl Bailey is no stranger to Jazz Guitar Life, having been interviewed back in 2004. Since then, her star has shone bright with tours (both domestic and international), recordings, teaching and even a killer DVD. But her possibly most important moment is her recent recording project in a Tribute To Emily Remler. In this interview, Sheryl shares the process involved in this project and her relationship to the late, great Emily Remler. A great read!

This interview was conducted via email May, 2009 with assistance from All Things Emily and Jazz Guitarist/Educator John Horne for which I am deeply grateful. For more information on Sheryl Bailey check out her website at


JGL: Hi Sheryl and thank you for taking the time to speak with Jazz Guitar Life. First off can you tell us how this exciting project came about?

SB: My trio was playing at the 55 Bar in NYC and MCG Producer, Marty Ashby happened to stop in for a set. I remember that night as being particularly killing. He pulled me aside after the set and told me that he wanted to do a project, something big, but he wasn’t sure exactly what it would be. He brought me out to Pittsburgh to do a concert with the big band. Marty was a dear friend of Emily’s, and behind his desk is a beautiful oil painting of her. I looked up at that and said, “let’s do something for Emily” – he started beaming, and then the work began to put the music together.

JGL: How much of an influence has Emily had on your playing and are you still listening to her today?

SB: I took a lesson with Emily when she was living in Pittsburgh, and she was such a great teacher that everything she showed me that afternoon I still use everyday to this day. In preparing for the recording I went back and listened to everything she played on and even watched interviews to get her speaking voice and persona in my mind. Thanks for being such a great resource on my research.

JGL: Will the Tribute album feature Emily’s compositions solely or will there be other tunes that reflect Emily’s musical influences? And what was the process settling on which tunes to play? We’re there certain tunes that particularly lent themselves to this big band setting?

SB: Mocha Spice, Carenia, and East to Wes are her tunes that we play – I have three: A New Promise (title cut), Unified Field, and Miekkaniemi – then two standards: You and the Night and the Music and JJ Johnson’s Lament.

Marty was the brainchild in terms of which tunes. The East to Wes that we do is perfect. Very lush and loungey and totally swinging – there’s a soli with me and trombone and alto of a chorus of her solo from the original version. Carenia is a beautiful samba and a challenging form to solo over – also her soli from the original was a bear to learn, ouch! Mocha Spice is a light pop tune, but our arrangement has a dark modal section and was re-harmed slightly on the blowing sections.

A New Promise is a ballad that Mike Tomaro arranged so beautifully with a trombone choir, and some very Gil Evan-ish pads. The story of that tune is that I would go to see Emily play when I was a kid and would go home and promise the Cosmos that I would work with all of my heart to be a great player to someday (maybe that day will come yet!)

Unified Field is a Mcoy Tyner-ish modal blowout – OMG it sounds so killer with all that low brass! Miekkaniemi is a funk groove that leads into Rhythm Changes – I recorded it with my organ trio on my Mel Bay DVD “Live in NYC”, but Mike Tomaro took the riff and wrote a “Some Skunk Funk” type melodies to it – I love what he added to it. I think I will learn the countermelodies and play them now with the trio.

Lament and You and the Night are standards that I’ve played for years and I think Marty wanted some tunes that I feel totally comfortable with to come in and blow on effortlessly. Again, Mike wrote some amazing charts for these and the band just sounds amazing!

JGL: Apart from the aforementioned female Jazz guitar players, are there any women guitar players today who are affecting you as much as Emily did “back in the day”?

SB: I don’t use gender as a gauge to what I listen to, or for anything much else. All of those issues revolve around people’s conditioning and their own rigid and limiting belief systems.

JGL: You are well rounded and deeply interested in so many styles of music, but even your rocker and old world traditional sides keep alluding back to the jazz form in one way or another. What is it about jazz that keeps doing it for you?

SB: I love harmony and I love swing! Those things drew me in and spoke to me immediately as a kid. Harmony intrigues me and is so enchanting.

JGL: You mentioned in a previous email correspondence that the session is: “…a big band date and the charts will be published through Alfred, so there’s a whole educational component to the project. The plan is to tour it as a workshop/concert situation with college and professional big bands across the country, etc…/” Are there any dates, clinics or workshops set up yet and if so, where is the best place to find such information?

SB: Yes, the plan is for me and Mike Tomaro (the arranger) to tour college and professional big bands to workshop and perform the music. The charts will be made available commercially. Since the recording is still in process of being released, we’re looking into 2010 and beyond to be working on this. There will be a home page for the project TBA, and of course, people can contact the Manchester Craftsman Guild directly for info on having us be guest artists or if they want to purchase the music.

JGL: I hope you don’t mind me mentioning this, but in another previous email you mentioned, “/I am very excited about the project musically and spiritually I feel that it will bring positive energy to Em’s spirit – I feel like this project was bigger than me What, if any, were the technical challenges in fronting a big band, in terms of amplification and maintaining your tone at a presumably higher volume?

SB: We recorded everything live – I was in the room with the band, but my amp was in a booth, so I had headphones – the bass and drums were also in separate booths. At this point, we’ve only performed once live in concert, so the challenges remain to be seen (or heard for that matter).

JGL: What gear did you use for this project?

SB: My McCurdy Mercury and my JazzKat TomKat model.

JGL: How did you hook up with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, the big band that backed you, and will you be doing any performances with them once the recording is released?

SB: They have done several dates for MCG – Mike Tomaro is the arranger and leader, so Marty arranged all of the details. They really played so great and I love what Mike did on my tunes and for the whole vibe of the arrangements. It was definitely a new experience to put my music in someone else’s hands and let them color them they way they like. It worked out perfectly!

JGL: Besides yourself, are there any other individuals associated with this project who knew Emily directly either professionally or personally?

SB: As I mentioned, Marty and Emily became friends during her stay in Pittsburgh. Jay Ashby, Marty’s brother, also plays percussion and trombone on the project – they also were very close.

JGL: This album is a homecoming for you. How great was it to be lured to your hometown for the honor of working with the distinguished MCG Jazz organization for a tribute to Emily in a town and with people that meant so much to her personally?

SB: It meant so much – I get goosebumps when I think of it. My first jazz guitar teacher, John Maione was there, and he is the closest thing to a father that I ever had. It felt amazing to look over my shoulder and see him beaming in the control room.

JGL: I believe you met Emily at least once for a lesson. How did that lesson come about and what did that lesson cover? What was the biggest thing you took from that solitary lesson?

SB: She gave me a great alternate picking study that she learned from Pat Martino and she taught me the right approach to playing rhythm changes. She was also just so positive and encouraging to me.

JGL: Did you guys ever hang socially before or after that lesson?

SB: No, I was just a shy kid at the time.

JGL: If you could meet Emily now for five minutes what would you want to say to her?

SB: Thanks!

JGL: In your heart of hearts, what do you hope will happen with this Tribute to Emily?

SB: Win a Grammy!

JGL: Our collective fingers are crossed…:) Thank you Sheryl for this wonderful Tribute to Emily and for the music you have given us in the past and future. I can only imagine that wherever Emily is, I’m sure she is beaming from ear to ear.

SB: To add to that, at the beginning of the session Marty brought a copy of her songbook out to consult on a melody. It was the book put together by Dan Bowden – it has a beautiful drawing of her on the cover. He left the book on my music stand. At some point in the session I glanced over and realized that Emily was looking out at us all and I really felt like she was there. At the end of the second day, I called Marty over and pointed that out, and he just lit up!

JGL: Take care and all the best. And please keep us posted with what’s going down. Peace!

SB: Thanks Lyle.

About Lyle Robinson 350 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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