American composer, performer, conductor, teacher, and writer noted for his wide range of activity in both jazz and classical music and for his works embracing both jazz and advanced 12-tone elements.
Master musician Gunther Schuller died two days ago in Boston at age 89. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and was the leading proponent of the Third Stream, a term he coined to describe fusing jazz improvization and classical music. Though largely self-taught, Schuller became a virtuoso French hornist, playing with the Cincinnati Symphony and Metropolitan Opera orchestras.
Schuller’s interest in jazz developed early when he became a fan of Duke Ellington. He made symphonic adaptations of several Ellington pieces and in 1955 composed Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington. Though Schuller was not considered a jazz soloist, he played with jazz ensembles such as the Modern Jazz Quartet. He felt musicians from both genres could learn from each other.
Although French horn was rarely used in jazz ensembles, Schuller began his jazz career as a member of trumpeter Miles Davis‘ group that recorded the seminal 1949-50 “Birth of the Cool” sessions, which fused jazz and classical techniques. Later, Schuller went on to perform and record with such jazz greats as J.J. Johnson, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.
In a 2010 interview with jazz writer Mark Myers, Schuller said:
When I started the whole thing in 1957 with the Third Stream … it was extremely controversial. I was vilified on both sides. Classical musicians, composers and critics all thought that classical would be contaminated by this lowly jazz music, this black music. And jazz musicians and critics said, ‘My god, classical music is going to stultify our great, spontaneous music.’ It was all nonsense and ignorance, of course. Eventually the two came together anyway.
Schuller was an educator of extraordinary influence and served on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and Yale University. For many years he was head of contemporary music activities (succeeding Aaron Copland) as well as a director of the Tanglewood Music Center, and served as President of the New England Conservatory of Music.
Yesterday, NPR aired a wonderful rememberence of Gunther Schuller called Listen Back To A 1988 Conversation With Composer Gunther Schuller.
Selection of Gunther Schuller’s Music
At work creating the Birth of the Cool Suite for Joe Lovano’s Blue Note CD, Streams of Expression
Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee
Symphony for Brass & Percussion, Op. 16