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Gunther Schuller (left) receiving the NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy in 2008, alongside A. B. Spellman (right).

Gunther Schuller (born November 22, 1925) is an American composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, and jazz musician.


Biography and works

The son of a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, he studied at the Saint Thomas Choir School and became an accomplished horn player and flute player. At age 15 he played horn professionally with the American Ballet Theatre (1943) followed by an appointment as principal hornist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1943–5), and then the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, where he stayed until 1959. He began his career in jazz by recording as a french horn player with Miles Davis (1949–50).

In 1955 Schuller and jazz pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society, which gave its first concert in Town Hall, New York, that same year and later became known as the Jazz and Classical Music Society. While lecturing at Brandeis University in 1957 he coined the term "Third Stream" to describe music that combines classical and jazz techniques.[1] He became an enthusiastic advocate of this style and wrote many works according to its principles, among them Transformation (1957, for jazz ensemble), Concertino (1959, for jazz quartet and orchestra; one of its movements, Progression in Tempo, has sometimes been performed separately), Abstraction (1959, for nine instruments), the opera The Visitation (1966), and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960, for 13 instruments), which was recorded by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Bill Evans. He also orchestrated Scott Joplin's only known surviving opera Treemonisha for the Houston Grand Opera's premier production of this work.

In 1959 Schuller gave up performance to devote himself to composition, teaching and writing. He has conducted internationally and studied and recorded jazz with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis among many others. Schuller has written over 160 original compositions. His modernist orchestral work "Where the Word Ends", organized in four movements corresponding to those of a symphony, premiered at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2009.[1]

In the 1960s, Schuller was president of New England Conservatory. He is the author of two major books on the history of jazz.

Schuller is editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the [[Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra[2] in Washington, D.C. Another recent effort of preservation was his editing and posthumous premiering at Lincoln Center in 1989 of Charles Mingus' immense final work, Epitaph, subsequently released on Columbia/Sony Records.

His notable students include Irwin Swack[3] and John Ferritto.

Gunther is the father of jazz percussionist George Schuller and bassist Ed Schuller.

Awards and recognition

Schuller has been the recipient of many awards, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his composition written for the Louisville Orchestra Of Reminiscences and Reflections, the MacArthur Foundation "genius" award (1991), the William Schuman Award (1988), given by Columbia University for "lifetime achievement in American music composition", and ten honorary degrees. He received the Ditson Conductor's Award in 1970. In 1993, Down Beat magazine honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to jazz.

Grammy Award for Best Album Notes - Classical:

  • Gunther Schuller (notes writer) for Footlifters performed by Gunther Schuller (1976)

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance:

  • Gunther Schuller (conductor) & the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble for Joplin: The Red Back Book (1974)


  • Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. Oxford University Press. 1968. New printing 1986.
  • The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Oxford University Press. 1991.
  • Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987.
  • "The Compleat Conductor" Oxford University Press, 1998.


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gunther Schuller (born November 22, 1925) is an American composer and French horn player. He is regarded as one of the key figures in contemporary classical music.


  • "Varése was talking about the problem of how to describe, metaphorically, the listening to of agglomerations of carefully controlled sound and fused timbres, and understanding that they are significantly different when the entrances and exits are patterned in a different way, and when the dynamic flux is different."

External links

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