By Sean Cruz
(Portland, Oregon) We’ll be going live midsummer! Meanwhile, see the following brief (!) Gunther Schuller bio. The complete one will run a couple of volumes! Please note the last paragraph, referencing Gunther's 85th birthday this year, being celebrated at more than a dozen tribute concerts around the world.
Gunther's leaving us after the conclusion of the Jim Pepper Arts Festival to fly directly to Greece, to one of those tribute concerts, where he'll receive another honorary doctorate to add to the dozen or so others….
On September 28 at Portland State University, he will be honored as the Founding Occupant of the Jim Pepper Hunga-Che-Ada Flying Eagle Chair in the Department of Native American Studies, fulfilling Oregon Senate Joint Resolution 31 (2005), “to further the study of Native American music and its relationship to jazz.”
As the Jim Pepper Chair, Gunther will be with us for two weeks as an artist-in-residence, working with the University, students and faculty, and with the Portland community, to leverage the genius of Jim Pepper, the brilliant Native American saxophonist, singer, dancer, bandleader, innovator and composer, into an instrument that makes real differences in real lives, building a path to higher education for Native American students, financed with Jim Pepper Remembrance Scholarships.
The 2010 Jim Pepper Arts Festival will culminate at Trinity Cathedral on Oct 7, 8 and 9 with the American premiere performance of “Gunther Schuller’s Witchi-Tai-To: The Music of Jim Pepper”.
This series will feature the Portland Chamber Orchestra, Gunther Schuller conducting, with the Jim Pepper Remembrance Band and the Intertribal Veterans Powwow Drum from Ft. Defiance, Arizona. Native American poet and storyteller Ed Edmo will also be on the bill.
All Jim Pepper events are benefits for the Native American Studies Department, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at Portland State University.
Let's not forget to wish Gunther a happy birthday while he's in town.
Gunther Schuller (b. 1925, Jackson Heights, NY)
Gunther Schuller has earned prominence as a composer, conductor, jazz and classical performer, author, educator, administrator, music publisher, record producer, and all-around advocate of other innovative musicians. He is the winner of several major honors including the Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Genius Award, DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award and inaugural membership in the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
Born to an artist mother and a New York Philharmonic violinist father on St. Cecilia’s Day, which celebrates the Patron Saint of Music, Schuller’s destiny was clear early on. Within his first 15 years, he would discover talent for both art and music. That combination would lead to some of his most exciting compositions, including his well known Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959). Another famous combination of interests, classical music and jazz, would go on to define his career and secure his place in the musical history of the 20th century as a leader in the “Third Stream” movement.
He began as a composer, studied flute, and then switched to French horn. Schuller had already performed professionally under the baton of Arturo Toscanini and Antal Dorati before becoming the principal horn of the Cincinnati Symphony at age 17 in 1943. In his two important years in Cincinnati, Schuller first met Duke Ellington and developed an insatiable appetite for live jazz. By the time he joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 1945, Schuller was spending much of his time at the dozen or so clubs on Broadway and New York’s legendary 52nd Street with his wife, Marjorie Black Schuller (1925-92).
His early involvement with the New York jazz scene eventually led to a life-long relationship with the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis, then a young bebop pianist with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1950, Lewis suggested Schuller replace an absent French horn player on the third and final Birth of the Cool session led by Miles Davis. Schuller would go on to record two more albums with Davis, including 1958’s Porgy and Bess with Gil Evans, and several more with Lewis as a major collaborator. Together they created the Jazz and Classical Music Society in 1955, founded the Lenox School of Jazz in 1957, performed on each other’s recordings (1955-65), and co-led the Third Stream ensemble Orchestra USA from 1962-65.
Despite collaborations with musical titans like Milton Babbitt, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Dimitri Mitropolous on the classical side and Charles Mingus, J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Scott LaFaro, and the Modern Jazz Quartet on the jazz side, Third Stream music was mostly maligned by critics and poorly supported by the public. But Schuller, who had gained classical recognition for his composing of works like Symphony for Brass and Percussion (1950) and his first book, Horn Technique (1962), never missed a beat. With references like Leonard Bernstein, conductor of Schuller’s Triplum (1967) with the New York Philharmonic and a close friend, Schuller’s star was on the rise in the classical world.
He left the Met in 1959, and continued to freelance on French horn with artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Johnny Mathis, and Frank Sinatra until retiring to focus on composing in 1963. That year also began his twenty-two year association with the Berkshire Music Center where he presented Tanglewood’s first-ever jazz concert (1963), and served as Head of Contemporary Music Activities (1963-84) and Artistic Director (1969-1984).
In 1967, Schuller left his position as Associate Professor of Composition at Yale University to become the President of the New England Conservatory in Boston. At the helm of the NEC, he created the first conservatory-level degree program in jazz, founded three important jazz repertory orchestras including the Grammy-winning NEC Ragtime Ensemble, formed the Third Stream Department, and assembled an amazing array of talented faculty including George Russell, Joe Maneri, Ran Blake, Russell Sherman, Jaki Byard, Victor Rosenbaum, John Heiss and Benjamin Zander.
Before Schuller’s performances with the NEC’s Ragtime Ensemble helped spur the worldwide revival of interest in Scott Joplin in 1972-73, he would write the first of his seminal jazz books (Early Jazz: It’s Roots and Musical Development, 1968), tour Eastern Europe extensively for the U.S. State Department (1963-78), receive the first three of his eleven honorary doctorates in music, and premiere two of his operas (1966’s The Visitation and 1970’s The Fisherman and his Wife). In 1975, Schuller orchestrated Joplin’s opera Treemonisha and premiered and recorded it with the Houston Opera, also performing it on Broadway.
Also in 1975, Schuller founded the first of his three companies, Margun Music, to publish the works of composers like Alec Wilder and many younger, less-known composers who deserved public recognition. Before being sold in 1999, Margun, and its sister company GunMar, published over 1000 works. GM Recordings, Schuller’s independent record label, released its first recording in 1981—the piano music of twelve-tone composer Robert DiDomenica—and celebrates its 20th anniversary and the issuance of over 115 jazz and classical recordings in 2001. Schuller has received the Alice M. Ditson Award (1970) and many other honors for his selfless championing of other musicians.
After retiring from the presidency of NEC and his directorial position at Tanglewood, Schuller spent most of the 1980’s as one of the primary on-call composers for orchestras performing contemporary classical works. He also premiered his jazz ballet, The Great Gatsby (1987), in Pittsburgh, wrote his second award-winning jazz book, The Swing Era (1989), and edited Charles Mingus’ Epitaph for its posthumous premiere at Lincoln Center in New York (1989).
The 1990’s were arguably Schuller’s most productive decade. He collected a throng of awards including the MacArthur Genius Award (1991), the DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award (1993), the Pulitzer Prize for Composition (1994), the BMI Lifetime Achievement Award (1994), Musical America’s Composer of the Year (1995), the DownBeat Critics Poll Jazz Album of the Year with Joe Lovano (1995), and Columbia University’s William Schumann Award for lifetime achievement (1989).
He co-directed and transcribed early jazz music for the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (1991-97) and in 1997 released his controversial treatise on conducting, The Compleat Conductor (Oxford University Press). He also won the Gold Medal in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997), and was commissioned to compose a piece for the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, The Black Warrior, which premiered in Birmingham, Alabama (1998).
In 2000, he arranged several of Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper’s compositions for orchestra, jazz band, powwow drum and singers.
“Gunther Schuller’s Witchi-Tai-To: The Music of Jim Pepper,” was recorded in Cologne, Germany on Tutu Records, Gunther Schuller conducting the WDR Radio Orchestra, members of the Jim Pepper Remembrance Band, and Yellowhammer, a Ponca Southern-style powwow drum and singers from Oklahoma.
Approaching his sixtieth year in professional music in 2002, Gunther Schuller has composed nearly 180 works and is still active as a world-traveling conductor, public speaker, and label president/producer with GM Recordings. He is currently documenting his unique life experiences in a long-awaited autobiography and celebrating his 85th birthday at more than a dozen tribute concerts around the world.