Emmett Chapman: The Beginning (1936-1969)
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by Jim Reilly
Emmett graduated from Canoga Park High School in 1954. Immediately afterward he hitchhiked across the U. S. to New York City with a high school friend. There Emmett worked in an office mailroom delivering mail in a skyscraper and saved enough money to travel to the British Isles and then onward to Europe. The plan was to hitchhike and backpack around Europe and stay in youth hostels. He had arranged to send newspaper columns back to a San Fernando Valley newspaper describing his trip, with impressions of Europe through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old.
On December 7, 1954, Emmett set sail aboard the SS Italia (tourist class) bound for Southampton, England. As the ship departed from New York Harbour Emmett met Yuta, the woman who would become his wife. Emmett and Yuta spent the weeklong voyage dancing, eating fine food, and enjoying each other's company to the exclusion of all others. Yuta grew up in the small German town of Neumunster, between Hamburg and the border of Denmark. As "luck" would have it, Emmett managed to pass through her hometown several times and the two continued their relationship. In Emmett's words, "We began to fall in love."
After Emmett returned to the States, he and Yuta sent letters back and forth for about a year and decided to reunite in Vancouver, Canada in February 1956. That June Emmett and Yuta were married at the Pentecostal Four-Square Church in Vancouver. The two are still together to this day, working side by side.
While in Vancouver, Emmett began his college education at the University of British Columbia and worked as a journeyman reporter for the Vancouver Sun Newspaper. Shortly after the wedding, the Chapmans moved back to California. They borrowed $300 from Emmett's brother Jerry, $300 from the real estate agent and bought a home in the new Encino Park track home development. "The house cost $12,000," said Emmett. "This was a time when opportunities for young Americans were plentiful."
In November, 1957, Yuta gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Diana. The new family settled into life in Southern California. Emmett continued his college education, enrolling in UCLA. He would pursue and obtain a bachelor's degree in political science. To support the family, Emmett worked at night operating a drill press, drilling holes into aircraft and missile parts. Yuta worked during the day as an office secretary and stenographer and Emmett maintained both a full college curriculum and held down a full-time factory job in the evenings.
At that time, Emmett was playing guitar and singing old standards and Johnny Mathis songs, even a couple of Elvis tunes. Then a family friend bought Emmett a Tal Farlow record, his first encounter with jazz and jazz guitar. Emmett began exploring jazz and blues melodies and adding them to the repertoire of chords he had already well established on guitar. Tal Farlow led to Barney Kessel, with whom Emmett would later perform, both as a guitarist and in the very early days of The Stick. These jazz guitarist influences led to an admiration of jazz in general and other musicians, specifically McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and eventually John Coltrane. As the late 50s turned into the 60s rock guitarists would broaden Emmett's musical spectrum, particularly Jimi Hendrix. The power and passion of Hendrix combined with the melodic and harmonic structure of jazz guitarists and pianists met full force in Emmett's music, instrument and eventually, his playing technique, which lead to The Stick.
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