Born to non-musical parents in New York City on September 18, 1957, Emily Remler ws raised in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. She taught herself to play folk guitar when she was nine. She became interested in rock, first through the Beatles and then the Rolling Stones and Johnny Winter. She even imitated Winter's blues guitar riffs and copied Jimi Hendrix's style.
She was introduced to bebop and swing at the Berklee School of Music. In an interview with John S. Wilson, she said, "Initially, all I heard was a bunch of notes, so I know what it's like when people hear jazz for the first time. But then I heard Charlie Christian, the guitarist...and Paul Desmond. With Desmond, I could hear the melody and relate to it. Desmond got me into jazz, but when I heard Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny, I knew I would be a guitarist." There were other musicians who influenced Remler, musicians as diverse as John Coltrane and Leonard Bernstein. "If it wasn't for 'West Side Story,' I wouldn't be playing music.... If I could switch with somebody right now, just for a couple of days, it would be Leonard," said Emily in a 1985 Down Beat magazine interview.
She left Berklee with a degree at 18 and moved to New Orleans, where she did her first serious work as a professional musician. In 1978, the legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis changed her life. "I had a Herb Ellis model guitar and he was in town. I called him and asked him to fix it. I'm very gutsy." Recognizing her talent, he gave her a lesson and was instrumental in her invitation to perform at the Concord (California) Jazz Festival the next month. "And there I was on a 'Great Guitar' bill with Herb, Cal Collins, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow -- my heroes."
Shortly thereafter, she was signed to a contract by Carl Jefferson, President of Concord Records, who had become one of her staunchest fans and mentors. Her debut album as a leader, Firefly, brought immediate accolades. Nat Hentoff reviewed it in Cosmopolitan magazine: "Behold a remarkable new jazz star! She has an exceptionally warm sound, a flowing beat, and continually fresh ideas. Add another distinctive presence to the growing number of women in jazz."
Leonard Feather presented her with his "1981 Golden Feather Award," naming her "Young Woman of the Year' in jazz.
Remler performed at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York and the Berlin Jazz Festival. She worked for three years with Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, and then formed her own group with talented musicians such as Eddie Gomez and Bob Moses.
Remler followed her first success with five more albums on the Concord label, each garnering more praise. She was most proud of being voted winner of Down Beat magazine polls year after year from 1982 on.
People magazine did a feature on Emily, in which she is quoted, "I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I'm a 50-year-old, heavyset black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery."
By 1989, she was touring around the world, performing in clubs and at festivals. Michael Bourne reviewed the 1987 Northsea Jazz Festival in Down Beat magazine: "...and guitarist Emily Remler stole the show again and again."
Noted jazz critic Leonard Feather paid her the ultimate compliment in 1989. "Remler, at 31, as entered a plectrum pantheon that numbers only a few of her most talented elders: Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell."
Emily Remler died in Sydney, Australia on May 4, 1990.