Memories and Tributes fro Players and Friends
Emmett Chapman: the legend begins. --The inventor of the Stick, began his astral journey.
I don't know how to say goodbye to Emmett Chapman. After almost 30 years working together on everything related to the Stick world, it's hard to do. His invention—the Chapman Stick—changed my life and the lives of many other musicians around the world. The Stick allowed me to have a language I never had on other instruments. It wasn't just a language: it was a unique opportunity to make all my musician dreams come true. The possibility of traveling the world. To watch and grow as a person and musician. Without realizing it, the Stick began to become part of my nature as it is for so many other musicians who play the Stick today. But back in those 90's we were few still. I do not know what Emmett Chapman saw for those days in me, that young Argentinian traveler of the south of the world, long-haired - now no longer - who proposed to him in 1994 and on the kitchen table of his own home in California, a plan to create Stick Center in different s places of the world, organizing seminars of Stickistas, empowering artists before the instrument, promoting their records, because - said the young man - it was the music that would take away the Stick. All this translated by a hispanic gardener who had called for the occasion because I did not speak fluent English - now I do.
Emmett Chapman was a visionary, a daring man who broke the rules there for the year '69. We "Stickists" inherited that from him: the daring to give full concerts with an innovative and revolutionary instrument that mixed bass, guitar, percussion and piano technique. The 4 great instruments in one, nothing more and nothing less.
So many concerts Emmett So many seminars, Stick Camp, Stick Center, Stickist Compilations, interviews, clinics. So many students, so many musicians new, old, music, music and more music. How many letters Emmett. First fax, then paper, then emails. How many secrets between those lines that made your unique letters, talking every now and then about the universe, about the life brought from outer space, the concept of pop music, of your philosophy as an artisan. How many hours, days, months and years did you put into the Stick calibrating them one by one to send it later to the house of those dreamy musicians. What an honor to have been part of your staff. I know you had a special sympathy for me and allowed me to represent your Stick brand in Argentina, Chile, Spain and Colombia. Yes, I already realized that I was still the only European representative of the Stick brand even though you no longer needed representatives, but you gave me that opportunity until your last day because - I like to think so - you still see the fearless young Argentinian Bach and The Inner World from The Planets.
Thank you Emmett for these 30 years. I still play Bach and The Inner World - now still.
I have been loyal to our work just as I promised you that day in that kitchen in your house. But most especially, I have been happy to play the Chapman Stick, the instrument you allowed to fly from your hands to reach mine, as well as thousands of musicians around the world. In the end, it is only happiness that remains in the ethereal world of the planets.
I’ve had a few Sticks made for me over the years. The first was an ironwood built in 1983. The second was made from oak 1987. And then in 1998 I had a ten string Grid made,
which Emmett delivered to me at the LA House of Blues after a show. It was to become my work horse Stick for the next twenty years.
The last time I saw Emmett was 2014. I drove out to the house looking for a new instrument and Emmett had got a few in for me. They all had a nice tone and good feel but even so I was finding it hard to make that special connection. "Why not try out one of our new rail boards?" He suggested. But even that didn’t sit right under my fingers. “What’s that one?” I enquired pointing to a blonde ten string grand in the corner. “Oh that’s my personal instrument made of bamboo,” he replied.“But go right ahead and try it.”
As soon as I picked it up I knew it was the one. Emmett looked at me in that quizzical way. He knew I loved it and luckily sold it to me.
Día triste, año triste, tiempos tristes. EMMETT CHAPMAN, el hombre-leyenda que con su creatividad e inventiva cambió la historia contemporánea de los instrumentos de cuerda, ha dejado este plano y resonará percusivamente ahora desde la eternidad del sonido.
Adiós querido Maestro, los extrañaremos con cariño y haremos de la música con Chapman Stick nuestra ofrenda.
A sad day to learn that Emmett Chapman has left us.
In 2004 I decided to focus exclusively on playing his instrument, the Chapman Stick. He was always so encouraging to me, offering many kind words and advice over the years. He was a brilliant thinker, both musically and as an inventor, and like many other musicians I owe so much to the wonderful instrument he created and the supportive community around it.
Condolences to his family (Yuta, Grace, Diana, Dan) and friends.
Farewell, my dearest Emmett.
Words can't begin to describe how grateful I am for your wonderful mind and generous heart. I will always remember our conversations and how you wonderfully described my music as you hear it, the way I cannot possibly describe them in my own words. And it is, in fact, because of the Chapman Stick, your legacy, that my life has changed. Your invention truly opened up my world to musical possibilities I couldn't have imagined; and to like-minded musicians from around the world, that I wouldn't have connected with if not through your wonderful instrument.
To Emmett's family, Yuta, Cambria, Dan; to his closest colleagues, Greg, Steve, Bob, Andy, Guillermo, Rob, Tony; and to the whole Stick community, my deepest condolences.
Thank you, Emmett. Your legacy will continue to live on through my music, I promise.
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. As many of you have no doubt heard Emmett Chapman passed away last week. I’ll be processing that for a long time. So far gratitude is the one sentiment I keep coming back to. I’m lucky I had a chance to know him.
I’ve known a good number of people, but anytime I think of Emmett, he just seems distinct. It makes me want to share some of my experiences with others, so here are just a few that come to mind.
As many will attest, buying a Stick was usually more than just a retail transaction. It was like becoming part of a family. I’ve commented before that I felt like my first Stick came with an extra set of grandparents in Emmett and Yuta Chapman. There were dinners and Christmas cards, lots of phone calls and lots of grapefruit juice. One of my favorites; a Christmas card with a snowman on the cover holding the hand drawn addition of a Stick 🙂 And of course there was the music…
Emmett had a unique approach to music itself (setting aside even the fact that he invented an instrument!) He actually created his own music theory system, with some scales that are different even from anything I saw in my college days. He always loved improvisation and has said that’s partly what led him to create the Stick. He wanted to be able to improvise with not only the melody but also the chords underneath it. We played many concerts together. He always like what he called the “Round Robin” approach where each performer plays multiple short sets and the acts keep rotating. Once at a “Stick night” in LA, I was sitting next to his wife Yuta as Emmett was playing one of his sets. As he started a piece Yuta smiled and said something like “…he’s playing this for me because he knows it’s one of my favorites, it’s Hotel California.” I sat and listened and listened.. I was expecting the Eagle’s song but I just couldn’t recognize it and in my mind I started to think “is there another song called Hotel California besides the Eagles?” Emmett was changing the underlying structure of the song to such a degree that I didn’t even recognize it! But Yuta did…
Maybe in the last 12 years or so, when we would do shows together he started to actually ask me to play with him. One of the more unique times was in 2012 during a Stick seminar I organized at Miracosta College in Oceanside. Emmett decided he just wanted to do one set of about 30 minutes of non-stop improvised music. I was there with drummer Ryan Moran (Rymo) as our duo Agent 22. Emmett asked us both to play with him. He gave us the instructions that he would never stop playing, but that after about ten minutes I should just walk on stage and join him, and then about five minutes after that Ryan should just walk out and join us.
Of course walking on stage while somebody else is performing goes against all kinds of music school instincts for both of us, but we were happy to do it. Somewhere in the “trio” section of the performance though I got yet another lesson on just how good Emmett’s ear for music was. As we were all playing away, I played a wrong note, something that just didn’t fit in with the scale/key we were in. It happens to all of us and usually one tries to ignore it and move on. But Emmett didn’t. He heard my wrong note as a bridge to another key and suddenly changed what he was playing to move the whole song to the new key. He made my wrong note sound like an intentional transition, embraced it and ran with it. I was stunned and almost stopped playing. I’ve been around a lot of great musicians, but that level of “jazz ear” I feel like I’ve only been around in one other person; the head of the ear training department at Berklee.
Emmett loved playing music but he was supportive of other Stick players even to the point of it impeding his own artistic efforts. The best example I have is that the main instrument I’ve played for years now was actually his personal instrument. Sometime ago I had a problem with one and with shows coming up I was in a bit of a panic. Emmett said the only one he had in stock at that time was his own but he was happy to set it up for me right away and it’s been my go to for over ten years now. It still has a strip of fuzzy sided velcro on the back of the tailpiece where he liked to attach his audio cable, something no one Stick player does that I’m aware of.
I’ll miss the conversations too.. they were always entertaining and insightful. He seemed to simply view the world a little differently than most of us. In my earliest Stick days I actually took photos of instruments for the Stick Enterprises website, since I was the proud owner of a brand new 1 megapixel digital camera! Once when I put two photos of Sticks side by side on their website, Emmett got excited and said he could merge the two pictures into one 3D Stick in his mind if he unfocused his eyes a certain way. Apparently it was a technique he had learned or maybe developed while in the Air Force analyzing aerial reconnaissance photos. I could never do it, but at his insistence we actually put instructions on the website for a time telling people how they could see a 3D Stick by unfocusing their eyes on these two particular photos. I’m not sure anyone ever saw it the way he did.
And I’ll miss his humor… I once had a conversation with Emmett where he said something like, “Why do all the compliments people give musicians actually seem like put downs? If someone tells you you’re unbelievable, does it mean you’re not to be believed? Or if they say you’re fantastic, you’re just a fantasy? Or if you’re incredible, you have no credibility?” 😉
Speaking of reviews, Emmett always wrote great and encouraging ones about Stick players’ musical efforts. Recently when Bert Lams and I released our virtual concert video, Emmett sent in an email review with his classic insights and character. It read: “The best I’ve heard, an orchestra of 18 independent strings, and percussion understood. So many acoustical finger effects from Tom, and then that Frippian melodic ride. The two heads of Bert and Tom, no doubt bald to enable the mind meld.” Love it!
The last email I received from him was surprisingly recent. I was inquiring about a modification to the Stick to see if it was possible and apologizing in advance for the “weird” request. Emmett’s response began with: “Nothing is weird when you’re active and on the road. Willie Nelson would tell you.”
I could go on for pages… and look forward to sharing more in the future as I think Emmett was a joy to know and I think the stories deserve sharing. But for now…
Rest In Peace Emmett. Thank you and God bless!
I have so many rich and rewarding memories intertwined with Emmett—sharing stories, deep philosophical conversations, playing tennis, and, of course, the music. Playing Stick opened up a world that I would never have found had I not taken that plunge, called Yuta, and ordered one, sight unseen. Connecting with Emmett on a personal level not only opened doors but blew those doors right off their hinges. I truly cannot count the number of experiences, friends, and opportunities that have come my way because of Emmett’s trust, encouragement, lessons taught, and friendship.
That said, perhaps, my most cherished memories are those times when I was sitting in the small office space adjacent to his workshop digging through archives or photocopying magazine clippings, and Emmett would pick up a Stick and play. Sometimes he was testing an instrument. Sometimes he was practicing. Every time the music was every bit as complex, beautiful, searching, and captivating as he was as a person. I’m only one in a long, long list of people whose lives have been made immeasurably richer through connecting with Emmett, and like everyone else, I’m forever grateful.
Back in the day, I met a man of such great brilliance, genius, kindness, generosity and talent ... and yet had no idea of any of that. All I knew was of hearing about this new instrument that could do things I only dreamed about. So, I packed up the wife and we took a trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and purchased my first Stick.
I took lessons from this great man who opened my eyes and ears to a new way of looking at how I create music... and a kinship and friendship started. I loved his creative open talent and spirit and he loved how I'd take his invention on sessions and invent my way adapting it into all music genre. He'd say, "You're like a gun slinger, boldly walking into sessions or the pilot of the "Sopwith Camel" flyin' by the seat of your pants. And it was like that - however only made possible from his creative genius and giving spirit. Our mutual admiration society grew and over the years I became like others, part of his extended family.
I would suggest different ideas that I thought useful coming from a bassist recording point of view, like "It needs thicker strings, action needs to be blah blah blah.... and I admired how he actually took anything that I'd say with such interest especially since he already thought it all through. And in the end it was perfect how he had it lol. He did however listen to one of my suggestions with the NS/Stick. Originally the NS/Sticks had a hole drilled in the bottom where a cello post would slide in. You could then pull it out and have the NS/Stick stand upright to be played without using a strap. Genius in retrospect but alas, I said, "It looks funny, no one would wanna play it like that!" And so my friends you have me to thank for what was useful, smart and clever... and that we now don't have LOL. Sorry.
On his playing ability? Like no other. A free flowing flurry of techniques and open ideas that were endless and so him. He played like "Emmett" which to me is the golden goal of any artist... to have the music be you. He often told me the Stick was simply a mirror that reflects the artist. So true.
Most of all, it is his humanity, wisdom, thought provoking ideas, friendship, concepts on life that leave a void in me that I continue to miss. I think of you Emmett and know you are doing great in the beyond. I still feel inspiration from you and still get the occasional nudge of the feeling that you are watching, laughing and amused.
Thank you, your invention, generosity and love have guided me these many years and will continue too.
If ever I had a hero, it was you Emmett. Devoted husband, loving father, musician, engineer, entrepreneur, teacher, creative visionary and a fine friend.
It was my great honor to know you and to be a messenger for your vision. Your greatest gift was to your family, an ever-lasting love that could only be measured out in your ability to create, to innovate and to be unyielding in bringing about new ways to make music. It was always family first, you showed me, and the universe, with every waking breath.
You told me once you never expected to see a community of players so devoted to the instrument, but how delighted you were that it had come to be. You told me that The Stick was not alone your gift to give, it was the gift of the Chapman family.
None of this would have been possible without this combined effort, so to each and everyone of you, I say this - I love you. May you go from strength to strength and hold with you that same love and that same passion that you helped to foster and design,You are now ONE with the stars you loved to read, and more than ever, forever in my heart.
I met both Emmett and Yuta for the first time at the LA NAMM Show back
in 2000. I'd purchased my first instrument in 1999 and felt like I'd
gotten to know them both a little bit through several phone
conversations and emails. It was really great to finally meet them face
to face but, of course, the NAMM Show is a hectic place and quiet time
to talk is not easy to find (if not impossible). In the years that
followed, our chats continued and, in 2002, I had the good fortune to
take over as the webmaster for Stick Enterprises. Those were the years
where I felt like I really got a good glimpse into Emmett's personality
and how he operated. As Greg and I authored web page after web page on
the new website, I would get emails from Emmett at all hours of the day
and night with suggested corrections even to the most obscure and out of
the way pages. Two things became apparent to me during that time. The
first was that it was impossible to nail down what time of day Emmett
slept. The second was that in spite of the demands of making
instruments, Emmett thoroughly read and reviewed everything we did. That
was a lot of attention.
In 2003, Rasa and I were planning to visit some friends in southern
California so we made it a point to set some time aside to visit Emmett
and Yuta. This would be my first pilgrimage to Stick Enterprises and I
was pretty excited. On the day of our visit, we started with dinner. We
were planning on taking them out to a place we really liked in Malibu
but Emmett really wanted to take us to one of his favorite places near
home so we did that. The meal was delightful and we talked quite a lot
of topics. Music in general. Bands we liked. Astrology. Life in
Michigan. Life in California. After dinner we went back to the house.
I'd mentioned to him that I'd heard about his appearance on "What's My
line" (this wasn't available on the internet at the time) and he pulled
out a VHS copy of it and we watched it right there in the kitchen. The
discussion turned back to music then and I'd started to lament about
some recordings I'd started (recordings that eventually made their way
to my 2007 CD release). I commented that in spite of the fact that I
felt like I developed some decent Stick chops and had started working
the Stick into some new material, the results didn't sound that much
different from work I'd done before. Emmett immediately came back with
"That's good". When I asked him to explain, he said "that tells me that
you have a vision for the music you want to make the the instrument
choice isn't dictating that for you". It was an angle I hadn't
considered at all but that two minute conversation put my head back
where I needed it so I could finish what I started.
I could go on and on with stories like these. So where am I going with
all this? Emmett was so much more than a guy who made instruments. Sure
we all knew who he was before we ever picked up a Stick. But we also
discovered, when we did start to play, that Emmett took way more than
just a passing interest in what we were all doing. He listened. He
engaged. He was our guide and our biggest fan. Most of all, he was a
friend. Emmett always made himself available and was always ready to
help. Above everything else, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to
get to know Emmett personally and he'll always hold a special place in