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Remembering Charlie Chapman

Charles Chapman

Retired faculty member Charles Chapman

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.

Update: obituary in the Herald Gazette; family guestbook for condolences.

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,
Mark Small

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.

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39 Comments

  1. Paul Ferreira

    Sorry to read this. A memorable guy.

  2. Jon Wheatley

    Charlie was another fan of the great George Van Eps. We had some conversations about this, the chordal inventions of Bill Leavitt, and other mutual influences. I remember his tasty solo playing, one occasion being a Berklee event where I was working with Jeff Stout, et al. A great guy.

  3. Lisa Meri

    Charlie was my teacher from ’80-’83. Throughout those 3 1/2 years he taught me so much about the guitar, music, creativity, and life. He exemplified excellence with every aspect of his being- as an artist, teacher, friend, and human being. In the midst of various egos and strong personalities he stood alone, a shining example of brilliance and humility. He was an incredible role model and mentor. He was kind, patient, understanding and oh so wonderful. He had a beaming smile smile to go along with his huge heart and he was funny, fun, inspiring, encouraging, and absolutely wonderful. Charlie’s playing matched his amazing spirit- it was beautiful, original, inventive, and rich.

    During those 3 1/2 years, Charlie got me through every day of Berklee and to the finish line at the commencement ceremonies with Quincy Jones in 1983. Memories of our time shared at Berklee are sweet and special. Charlie will always be a part of my life and my music and I will be forever grateful for everything he gave to me as a teacher and a friend.

  4. Rick Peckham

    Charlie Chapman loved teaching and welcomed me when I joined the Guitar Department. He worked extremely hard to get the Department’s newsletter (his baby) into the hands of every guitar student, faculty member and, beyond that, all of the guitar heroes he had interviewed in past issues.

    He helped to show us all how to make an enormous community feel like a small town. Charlie made a big difference in the lives of many guitar students, faculty and enthusiasts in a network that now reaches all over the world.

  5. Bob Mulvey

    Charlie was one of the first faculty members I met when I began working in the Counseling Center in 1989.
    He was incredibly friendly and warm with a great smile and sense of humor. I would always attend the guitar/bass clinics that he and Rich Appleman would perform in the 1140 building just so I could pick up a playing tip or two and hear some lovely, tasteful music. Godspeed.

  6. I’m quite saddened to hear of Charlie’s passing. I know he was not in the best health, but, for whatever reasons, he seemed to still be hanging tough. He really seemed indestructible. I last saw him right after the release of one of my albums, for which he wrote the liner notes. He was playing a solo spot at a Berklee Christmas party, and he seemed right in his element. He had a great love of the instrument, the popular and jazz canon, and for those who shared his love of the music and teaching. I always remember his warm smile and all around gentleness. A good and decent Man who has left many worthwhile contributions and no doubt, left the world a better place by having been in it. God bless Charlie Chapman

  7. Darrell Katz

    I’m so sad to hear this. I knew Charlie when he was one of my teachers (probably around 1977). I started teaching at Berklee in 1989, and would run into Charlie from time to time. He was such a good natured, good spirited guy. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him, but I always enjoyed it whenever I saw him around the school. This is a very sad moment, but I have nothing but the most positive thoughts about Charlie. A GREAT and memorable guy.

  8. Charlie had a great sense of humor. He would always make me laugh. He was on faculty when I was a student here at Berklee & was so helpful & warm to me. I had a 4tk 1/4 inch, reel to reel Teac tape recorder & I loved the guitar charts that we played in the chart labs so much that I asked a few of my guitar teachers to please photocopy the parts for me so I could play & record all the parts myself. Most didn’t understand my request & wouldn’t do it. Multi tracking yourself in your dorm room wasn’t that common in 1978. Charlie photocopied them for me. Years later when I was on a major record label, almost on tour with Pat Metheny & taking a year off from teaching at Berklee, Charlie hand wrote me a letter telling me how valuable I was to him, the guitar dept & Berklee, & said in his letter, “I hope for our sake that you return to Berklee”. He was a very talented player & teacher. Mostly, he was a warm friend to me, especially in my early teaching years when it wasn’t easy being the only woman guitar teacher in the guitar dept. Charlie was ahead of his time, cool & non-sexist. He loved beautiful arch top guitars & he loved miniature dachshunds & we always had plenty of things to talk & laugh about in between classes. Much love to you Charlie. You were so cool.

  9. Mitch Seidman

    I met Charlie in the early 1970’s while I was a Berklee student, and when I returned years later as a teacher he was quick to reconnect and make me feel welcome. I always loved to hear him tell the story about his “Guil-son” (a neck from one company, and a body from the other)! RIP Charlie.
    Mitch Seidman

  10. steve macchio

    Had a discussion with,Charlie one day about pentatonic scales and blues scales outside the school,many years ago circa 1974,he,views enlightened me and my career as a guitarist,and I live by his point of view,I am saddened to hear of his passing,although I never finished schooling due to financial family problems,I never stopped playing the guitar,today I am a singer/songwriter,with two cds that I arranged ,produced. recorded,and performed all the instruments on separate tracks,it was because of Charlies enlightenedment,which helped me pull this off and put this all together!to Charlies family for your loss,RIP,my old friend!

  11. Erich Shoemaker

    I studied for a semester with Charlie. He had such an amiable personality and his love for music and guitar was contagious. I would not be half the guitarist I am today without him pushing me far beyond what I thought I was capable of.

    Rest in peace, Charlie.

  12. John Propper

    Charlie was a great influence on me. I only had one class with him but it was very memorable and I still use his drop-2 stuff today. What a great man and musician.

  13. When I arrived at Berklee in 1980, guitar in hand, Charlie was already on the guitar faculty. He was a fine player, a wonderful teacher, a sincere and warm person. He was generous and collaborative. Charlie could write well and he edited and contributed to a guitar department newsletter called “Open Position, The Voice of the Guitar Department at Berklee.” Charlie was also one of the first guitarists at Berklee to write for national guitar magazines. He reviewed equipment, CDs, books, and otherwise shared his expertise with people. We are all mortal, and even a long life is too short. Charlie’s life was way too short!

    I miss him . . .

  14. Kevin Cochran

    There are a lot of great guitar players, but he was a great guy and that’s a rarer thing. I’m saddened to read his passing.

  15. Robin Stone

    The thing I will remember most about Charlie was his smile. He was always smiling and in good spirits and telling stories in the guitar department office. I miss talking with him. I hope he knows how much he has been missed these last few years.
    Be at peace friend.

  16. Kevin McCluskey

    As a 1983 Berklee graduate, I returned to work here in 1995 and always ran into Charlie. What a whirlwind of a man – so full of exciting energy, so positive.

    My memory of him is of Charles ripping through the halls, leather jacket, guitar case in hand, papers and guitar picks flying ’round my head.

    Yet he always found time to stop and chat, full of news on his end about a new article he was writing or how he had “broken” in at this magazine or that…”They’re gonna let me do some reviews and if I do good I get a cover story next year”.

    And Charlie not only made sure he inquired after my activities, but alway had a word of advice and encouragement.

    When he told me he was sick, he said he “might have to slow down a bit, but only for a while.”

    People like Charlie are never around long enough! He changed me, and I’m a better person for having known him.

    My prayers and condolences go out to his family but the best way to honor Charlie is for each of us to try to be more like him. More positive, full of good energy about our own lives, a more dedicated teacher, and most of all – to be good to one another in the hallways and practice rooms that Charlie once called his own.

  17. Bob

    Check this video of guitar playing perfection by a Berklee student entering Barrios competition.

  18. Steve Prosser

    I knew Charlie when we both had offices on the 5th Floor of the 1140 Building. What a great guy Charlie was; positive about life and music, very friendly and always eager to stop and talk about music. I know he was a giving and beloved guitar teacher.

    I am very sorry to hear about his passing, and send my deepest condolences to Charlie’s family.

  19. C. Scott Free '75

    Charlie was one of my ensemble teachers when I first came to Berklee in the 1970’s. He was a good natured, but no nonsense teacher who loved music and people. I had the good fortune of sharing an office with Charlie when I was teaching in the guitar department. He was a mentor and good friend to me. I was sad to hear of his ill health, and my sympathy goes to his family on his passing. The Berklee community has lost a special person and we will miss him.

  20. Ken Pullig

    My condolences to Charlie’s family. He was a great guy who always had a bright hello for me when we passed in the halls on our way to teach. He was a great advocate for his students and for students in general, and as such was an encouraging reminder of what Berklee is really about. His contribution to music education will not be forgotten.

  21. Rich Appleman

    I always loved to play with Charlie. He made it so comfortable both musically and personally. One of my favorite tunes was for his dog Duffy. A favorite memory was playing at Great Woods (Tweeter Center) for I think a charitable event. It was a rainy, cool weekend afternoon with only a few in the audience, our wives were there, it was special. We all miss you Charlie.

  22. Larry Baione

    Charlie always had a smile…I have many great memories of him.
    He made connections with his students. He was loyal to his students and his students were always grateful..and always prospered by his teaching.
    Charlie was a great disciple of Bill Leavitt. Bill and Charlie used to get together and play duets in Bill’s room as often as possible. Bill was always proud to have Charlie in the Guitar Department.
    Charlie always had a funny story to tell on almost any subject that came up in conversation.
    Rest in Peace Charlie…I am sorry you suffered so much.

  23. John Baboian

    I first met Charlie in 1971 or ’72. Charlie was one of the teachers that I studied with in the Berklee extension division that existed at that time. He was still a Berklee student and I was in high school. Immediately, I could tell that Charlie was a natural “teacher”. We only had a few lessons before he went on to be a Berklee faculty member, but those lessons were very informative and eye opening. Later when I became a faculty member, we became good friends and he wrote the liner notes on my first CD. A few years ago, I had a gig in Maine and got a chance to visit Charlie at his home. His health had caused him difficulty in speaking but despite that difficulty, we still had a great conversation and he was still the same old Charlie. I know that all of us that knew him will miss him.

  24. I have many fond, inspiring memories of Charlie Chapman beginning when I was fortunate to play with Charlie in the Berklee Guitar Septet in 1973. In this band I was moved by Charlie’s deep love for playing. I was also fortunate to work with Charlie for a few years in the early beginnings of “Open Position”, the Berklee guitar department newsletter. His tireless enthusiasm for getting things right helped the newsletter off to a good start. Charlie was als one of my buddies in the Performance Outreach Program and also a fellow lover of pizza. In fact he especially wanted us to bring up a few pies from Stevies Pizza for him when we visited him up in Maine.

    His final years were a testament to his courage as well to Donna’s courage, his wonderful wife.

    Thanks for everything Charlie.

    Jon Damian

  25. When I first started teaching at Berklee in 1989, Charlie copied two arrangements of mine for guitar duet by hand to have on file in the guitar library. This was pre-Finale days and seeing my materials professionally written out was an important step for me to take my development of materials seriously.

    Years later Charlie and I played on a few concerts at the Long Island guitar show. We were always plotting ways to score our next great endorsement deal!

    Charlie was always very encouraging and positive. He’s an icon in the Berklee Guitar Faculty and will live on just as Bill Leavitt does in our hearts, and in the hearts of our successors forever.

  26. Curt Shumate

    I have great memories of Charlie. When I was a student I had Charlie for an Improv. class and a guitar ear training class. Charlie was a great teacher and yes very funny, filled with great stories about the gigging world. I remember his enthusiasm directing us in the Baroque Jazz Ensemble. Later as a teacher, Charlie was very helpful and supportive early on. Later, when Finale started being widely used here at Berklee, Charlie helped me get up and running myself. Very generous. We were all very saddened when Charlie had to leave teaching because of his illness.He had a wonderful wife help him through what would be a long and difficult battle. I hope that Charlie has found peace.

  27. Tom Szymczak

    Charles Chapman, a true ambassador of guitar education. His dedication, commitment and love of this instrument, the guitar, has made a great contribution to all guitarists.

    I remember Charlie as a student and young faculty member as he arrived on the scene shortly after me in the early 70’s.

    It was was very evident he was on the right track.

    Charlie was on a musical mission that evolved into some areas that many of us did not think was on his “radar range”. Performing, composition, arranging, teaching, creative writing, music notation, technology, local, national and international recognition.

    Charlie had it right. What a wonderful person with a warm personality. He always made time to chat, tell a joke and inquire on what you had going on. I am proud to have had the opportunity to be his friend and colleague. I will miss you Charlie.

    To Donna, you have much to be proud of. You were his strength and inspiration.

  28. People like Charlie are never around long enough! He changed me, and I’m a better person for having known him.

  29. Charlie and I had a lot of great times together. He set up a few gigs where we demonstrated the Pedal Steel Guitar and Lap Steel (using Bill Leavitt’s tuning). We did a local cable show and a few other clinics. Besides being a wonderful human being he was a great rhythm guitar player and a pleasure to play with. We started teaching at Berklee around the same time and both had really close ties with Bill Leavitt who was responsible for the success of both our careers in music and at Berklee.
    I will always remember the times we had at the Guitar Nite concerts, me with my Rock Guitar Septet and country Fat Rats and Sail Cats and he with his Classical Guitar Ensemble.
    A good friend and great teacher, he will be missed.

  30. Todd Anisman

    One of my funner memories of him was teasing him about that horrifically ugly yet Functional franken-strat he had with the Humbucker in the Neck position… Always positive encouragement from him as well- He was one my Junior Jury, and had very constructive criticisms; some never mastered that art of teaching, and would push the student in a direction by breaking them down. Charles would teach by building you up. I liked that.

  31. Craig Hlady

    I first met Charlie as a student at Berklee 30 years ago in one of his guitar ensembles. When I first started teaching at Berklee he made me feel at home. Charlie seemed to always be in great spirits, had a positive outlook with students and loved to talk about guitars.
    He was quite helpful when I made contributions to his baby, The Open Position, the guitar dept newsletter. When I’d make chord solo contributions to the guitar dept. he would recopy with his fine notational skills (pre Finale).

    We were all saddened when his career was cut short by his illness . May he rest in peace now.

  32. matt glaser

    what a positive person Charlie was! some people might say-“oh thats no big deal”—but its the biggest deal….its so rare to get to be with a person like Charlie, who would always improve your mood……30 years ago i arranged Joe Viola’s sax book for violin….Charlie wrote out the whole thing in his beautiful hand….a lost art…….the last time i saw him was on a plane…we happened to run into one another….i remember his smile,his warmth,and his laugh like it was yesterday……..blessings on his soul……

  33. Bret Willmott

    I was fortunate to share a room with Charlie in the late 70’s … room 5Z6 (no longer in existence). Concurring with many of the sentiments expressed here, Charlie was a precious person … thoughtful, truly caring, honest, encouraging, fun to be around, and a wonderful guitarist/author/teacher. It was tough hanging on to a bad-mood when Charlie was there. A quote from Charlie that stuck with me … “If I got a dime for every time I said ‘Practice!’, I’d be a (uniquely) rich guitarist.” I very much miss him.

  34. Very sad to hear of his passing. I met him once as we were both playing in Scotland at Martin TYaylors guitar festival. Chatted with him and Donna and exchanged CDs. A really nice guy , and a lovely player…loved his CD btw. My thoughts go out to all who loved him.

  35. charles RAYNAL

    It was a very long time ago… Charlie looked like he was always happy! He would find time to listen to you and talk to you and get interest in what you said, and he was very encouraging. Smart person…
    Dr. Charles RAYNAL(79)

  36. I only just found out today that Charles had passed away.

    I knew Charles first as a guest on my TV show and then as a friend.

    Charles was a great guitar slinger and consummate gentlemen. My wife and I had traveled to Long Island once to see him perform. He even had me up at Berklee College and we had lunch together in his office.

    Charles helped so many guitar players along the way and was such a great inspiration to many.

    I will miss Charles.

    One less great person has diminished the world.

    God Bless you Charles!
    Bob Miles

  37. Fred Borgianini

    I just heard today that Charlie passed away in July. Charlie was my first guitar teacher back in Trenton, NJ. He was 15 years old, and I was 12. My Uncle was good friends with his Dad. Charlie really inspired me to pursue Music. He was the main reason I went to Berklee. I’m glad to have reconnected with him on a visit to Boston in 2000, but regret losing touch with Charlie in recent years. Wish all the best to Charlie’s family. He will always be part of my life.

  38. I got to know Charlie in my first semester at Berklee in 87. He turned a dreaded sight-reading lab into fun. That alone was a miracle…

    As a young student you often don’t realize yet what a special gift it is to teach. Some time later, having taught yourself, you learn to fully appreciate the work of people like Bill Leavitt and Charles Chapman. Looking at all his contributions Charlie deserves our respect and gratitude. He brought a lot of positive vibe to the 5th floor Boylston Street.

    My condolences to the Chapman family.

  39. Rick Strzelewicz

    I am sad to hear my instructor has died, I remember him as a kind non-intimidating man who always had a way to encourage me.

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