Charles Chapman, jazz guitarist and retired member of Berklee’s Guitar Department, passed away in Maine on July 18. We asked some of his former colleagues and students to share their remembrances. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
Mark Small ’73, editor of Berklee Today
I have many memories of Charlie. As fellow guitarists, we had a lot in common and had each studied with Bill Leavitt back in the day. He never tired of talking guitar stuff with his colleagues. I remember in the late 1990s Charlie got interested in writing about music for guitar magazines. He pitched CD reviews for my classical guitar duo and Acousticity, an acoustic guitar duo made up of Berklee alumni Tom Young and Eric Ringstad, and was thrilled when he got the assignments. Ironically, Charlie’s review of my duo’s CD ran in Just Jazz Guitar magazine and Acousticity’s CD review appeared in Acoustic Guitar magazine.
A short time later Charlie got excited about a great arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite that Tom Young had written for five guitars. Charlie worked to make it a Christmas tradition at Berklee to have performances of the arrangement featuring himself and the two aforementioned duos to playing it. We played it each December for a handful of years in various Berklee recital halls. I vividly remember seeing Charlie in a Christmassy red sweater sitting across from me on the stage in Recital Hall 1A playing his part on his big Gibson hollow-body guitar.
Aside from his music abilities and charisma as a teacher, Charlie was always an upbeat person and loyal friend. While he had many guitar-playing compatriots, he never seemed to have any feeling of competition with them and was anxious to help a fellow guitarist with career moves whenever possible.
After Charlie began to experience medical problems about a half a dozen years ago, he retired from Berklee and moved with his wife Donna to Maine. While he wasn’t around the campus anymore, he was never forgotten. As editor of Berklee Today, I got periodic e-mails from his former students and classmates asking how he was doing. An e-mail from his wife Donna July 15 stated that his last days were hard. Like so many others, I miss him, but I’m glad to know that he is no longer suffering. I’m sure wherever he is now, he’s found some fellow guitar fans and is talking enthusiastically about rhythm changes, drop-two voicings, and other such things.
Rest in peace my friend,
And from two of the other participants in the Nutcracker Suite concerts:
Alumnus Tom Young ’91
Charles Chapman was a tremendous mentor and motivator for my growth as a guitarist. He was also one of the nicest people I knew. Charles strongly supported my former guitar duo Acousticity, always encouraging us and performing in some of our concerts. Although I never took private lessons with him, I experienced his enthusiasm for teaching in labs and ensembles. We also shared a love for arranging and playing guitar chord solos, and would often exchange various works with each other. One of my fondest memories was how Charles pushed me to complete an arrangement of the Nutcracker Suite for five guitars, then showcased it in annual performances at Berklee. I will forever treasure everything he did for me as a player and as a person.
Alumnus Erik Ringstad ’90
Charlie was my favorite person I knew at Berklee. He was, without a doubt, the nicest guy I met there in my time at the school as well as a great teacher. I did not have Charlie as a private guitar teacher, but I had him for classes and I joined his baroque/jazz ensemble for 2 years. He encouraged me to no end and even invited me to write for the group, later adding my composition to the Guitar Department library. He also invited Tom Young and myself (who were playing in a guitar duo at the time) to come back to the school each year following our graduation and play a concert of a five-guitar arrangement of the Nutcracker Suite (arranged by Tom) with him and Mark Small at Christmastime, a great thrill for me.
Even though he wasn’t my private instructor, I got one of the best guitar lessons I ever had from Charlie. It took about 10 minutes for him to explain the idea to me and I’ve been using it ever since. He was endlessly encouraging to people in general, and his generosity of spirit will stay with me forever as I try to live up to his spirit as a longtime teacher myself. Thank you Charlie, not only for the great musical experiences I had with you, but for the “lessons” on how to be a great human being as well. I will miss you and will never forget what a great guy you were.