04/26/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
"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," says jazz guitarist Emily Remler, 24, whose big thumb—i.e., rhythmic authority—and other talents have brought her a successful debut LP, Firefly, as well as festival dates from Concord, Calif. to Berlin. Says jazz great Herb Ellis: "I've been asked many times who I think is coming up on the guitar to carry on the tradition, and my unqualified choice is Emily." Respected L.A. Times critic Leonard Feather pegged her as jazz's 1981 Young Woman of the Year. Explains Remler of her uncommon pursuit: "No one ever told me that girls shouldn't play guitar like that."
Raised in Englewood Cliffs by "totally nonmusician" parents—a meat broker and a housewife—Remler began strumming folk guitar at age 8, and progressed to cloning Keith Richard, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix rock solos. "Listening to music, I found I could sing all the parts," she recalls, "bass line, horn line, harmony." At 18, Remler earned a two-year degree from Boston's Berklee College of Music. She moved to New Orleans and became house guitarist at a club that booked the likes of Joel Grey, Robert Goulet and Nancy Wilson, then headed for New York. She regularly backs Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto or teams with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Bob Moses, and she recently wrapped an onstage musical stint in the L.A. company of the Duke Ellington musical Sophisticated Ladies.
"My parents finally took me seriously after I got my LP out," Remler says. "At least they've given up on me just getting married and having children."
When not on the road, she shares a Manhattan apartment with former Buddy Rich pianist Mike Pellera, 25. "If I'd become a rock musician and dressed up in black leather, I'd probably be rich," Remler speculates. "But you can't be in jazz for the money."
Celebrities and less famous folk share a common foe: athletic injuries. "Professional athletes have trainers assigned to them for rehabilitation," notes Paul Gagnon, 25. "But nonpros are told by their doctors to go home and take it easy, with no further education." Gagnon's PJG Exercise & Equipment of Santa Monica, Calif. bridges the gap. Injured stars like Michael Douglas (left), who's coming back from a knee injury, flock to him for advice. Gagnon has built home gyms for director William Friedkin and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and mapped out exercise strategies for Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin.
Gagnon stresses gradual training. "You can't do it all at once," he says from experience. While a junior at the University of Wisconsin in 1977 (he is from Eau Claire), he broke two ribs in a sledding accident, collapsing a lung and rupturing an artery. Hospitalized three weeks, he bled internally, and his weight fell from 220 pounds to 158. But Gagnon paced his recovery and after a year was running six miles a day.
Armed with some classroom health knowledge (he was a phys ed and health major) and a sense of "mission," Gagnon quit school and headed West. Two years later he opened PJG. Recently he put Robin Williams through a program of 300 to 500 sit-ups a day to prepare for Garp. "The body thrives on having demands put on it," says Gagnon, a bachelor. "As the body gets better, life gets better."