Fused clas­si­cal mu­sic, jazz in ‘Third Stream’

GUN­THER SCHULLER, 1925 - 2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Elaine Woo elaine.woo@latimes.com The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this story.

Gun­ther Schuller had played for clas­si­cal great Ar­turo Toscanini, but he also recorded with jazz icon Miles Davis. So he was uniquely qual­i­fied when, in 1957, he be­gan to ad­vo­cate the mar­riage of the two mu­si­cal tra­di­tions. The ini­tial re­ac­tion was in­tense “I was vil­i­fied on both sides,” the horn player-turned-com­poser-con­duc­tor re­called in the Bos­ton Globe last year. “Clas­si­cal mu­si­cians looked down upon jazz and quite a few jazz mu­si­cians were against it too be­cause they thought…. hav­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic go into jazz would stul­tify jazz.”

Over the next decade, how­ever, Schuller’s ec­u­meni­cal ap­proach bore fruit. He es­tab­lished the first de­gree pro­gram in jazz at a pres­ti­gious clas­si­cal con­ser­va­tory — the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory, where he spent a decade as pres­i­dent. His com­po­si­tions fus­ing the two gen­res were per­formed by ma­jor or­ches­tras around the world. Noted jazz mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing John Lewis and Or­nette Coleman, wrote for and per­formed with sym­phonies and string quar­tets.

Schuller, whose cham­pi­oning of the hy­brid he called “Third Stream” mu­sic brought him a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foun­da­tion grant, died Sun­day in Bos­ton from com­pli­ca­tions of leukemia. He was 89.

Once de­scribed by critic Leonard Feather as “the ul­ti­mate Re­nais­sance man of 20th cen­tury mu­sic,” Schuller had more than 200 com­po­si­tions to his credit, in­clud­ing solo and or­ches­tral works, cham­ber mu­sic, opera and jazz. He won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for mu­sic for the or­ches­tral piece “Of Rem­i­nis­cences and Re­flec­tions.”

He also wrote two ad­mired jazz his­to­ries — “Early Jazz” (1968) and “The Swing Era” (1989) — and had his own mu­sic pub­lish­ing and record­ing com­pa­nies.

Born in New York on Nov. 22, 1925, Schuller grew up in a clas­si­cal mu­sic fam­ily: His mother played pi­ano, his fa­ther was a vi­o­lin­ist with the New York Phil­har­monic and his grand­fa­ther had been a con­duc­tor in Ger­many.

A French horn player, he dropped out of high school at 17 and be­came prin­ci­pal horn with the Cincinnati Sym­phony Or­ches­tra. At 19, he was a mem­ber of the Metropoli­tan Opera Or­ches­tra, where he played for Bruno Wal­ter and other mae­stros. He was also a mem­ber of the NBC Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, where he played un­der Toscanini. But he har­bored another mu­si­cal pas­sion.

He was about 16 when he dis­cov­ered Duke Elling­ton.

“I said to my fa­ther, ‘You know, Pop, I heard some mu­sic — Duke Elling­ton — last night and… that mu­sic is as great as Beethoven’s and Mozart’s,” Schuller re­called in a Na­tional Public Ra­dio in­ter­view in 2009. “And he al­most had a heart at­tack be­cause that was a hereti­cal thing to say.”

When he wasn’t play­ing “La Travi­ata” or “Aida,” he haunted New York jazz clubs, soak­ing up be­bop as it blos­somed in the midto late 1940s.

Be­cause French horn play­ers were rare in jazz, he earned a spot in Miles Davis’ group when it recorded the sem­i­nal 1949-50 “Birth of the Cool” ses­sions, which fused jazz and clas­si­cal tech­niques. Later, Schuller would per­form and record with Coleman and other jazz greats, in­clud­ing J.J. John­son, Eric Dol­phy, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Min­gus.

In the mid-1950s, he formed the Mod­ern Jazz So­ci­ety with John Lewis, the clas­si­cally trained jazz pi­anist and mu­si­cal di­rec­tor of the Mod­ern Jazz Quar­tet.

In 1957, he coined the term “Third Stream” to de­scribe his vi­sion of melt­ing the bound­aries di­vid­ing jazz and clas­si­cal mu­sic. He and Lewis made two al­bums for Columbia that merged the gen­res: “Mu­sic for Brass” (1957) and “Mod­ern Jazz Con­cert” (1958).

By the 1960s Schuller shifted his fo­cus to com­pos­ing, teach­ing and writ­ing. He led the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory in Bos­ton from 1967 to 1977, where he es­tab­lished the Third Stream depart­ment with pi­anist Ran Blake as its chair.

He also founded the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory Rag­time Ensem­ble, which earned a Grammy Award for cham­ber mu­sic per­for­mance in 1973 for the al­bum “Scott Jo­plin: The Red Back Book” and helped spur a rag­time re­vival. Schuller won two more Gram­mys for writ­ing liner notes.

In 1989, he helped as­sem­ble an all-star or­ches­tra and con­ducted Min­gus’ epic “Epi­taph,” which was also re­leased on record.

He wrote “The Com­pleat Con­duc­tor” (1997), which of­fered a history and phi­los­o­phy of con­duct­ing and was crit­i­cal of many em­i­nent con­duc­tors for fail­ing to fol­low printed scores. In 2011, he pub­lished his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Gun­ther Schuller: A Life in Pur­suit of Mu­sic and Beauty.”

His ma­jor or­ches­tral works in­clude “Sym­phony” (1965), “Seven Stud­ies of Paul Klee” (1959) and “An Arc Ascending” (1996). He com­posed two op­eras: “The Vis­i­ta­tion” (1966), based on a Franz Kafka story, and the chil­dren’s opera “The Fish­er­man and His Wife.”

His best-known Third Stream­style com­po­si­tions in­clude “Trans­for­ma­tion for Jazz Ensem­ble” (1957), “Con­certo for Jazz Quar­tet and Or­ches­tra” (1959) and “Vari­ants on a Theme of Th­elo­nious Monk” (1960).

Af­ter his wife, Mar­jorie Black, died in 1992, he was un­able to write mu­sic for a year. His Pulitzer-win­ning com­po­si­tion, “Of Rem­i­nis­cences and Ref lec­tions,” was ded­i­cated to her.

His sur­vivors in­clude his sons, Ge­orge and Ed­win, both jazz mu­si­cians.

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

TRANSCENDING GEN­RES Gun­ther Schuller, who re­ceived a Pulitzer Prize for a com­po­si­tion, helped spur a re­dis­cov­ery of

rag­time mu­sic with the al­bum “Scott Jo­plin: Red Back Book,” which won a Grammy Award.

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