Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 11 November 1925, Jackson Heights, NY; d 21 June 2015) French horn, composer, conductor, author, teacher. He played with Miles Davis '49-50; played in Cincinnati Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra NYC; plugged away for 'third stream' classical-jazz fusion without much reward, recording on Columbia and Verve '50s, his 'Conversations' performed '59 by the Modern Jazz Quartet with the Beaux Arts String Quartet, recorded with other pieces on Atlantic LPs in the '60s. He recorded Ellington's 'Symphony In Black' '80 on Smithsonian. His ballet 'Variants' was choreographed '61 by George Balanchine. He took part in Monterey Jazz Festivals '59 and '61, was an instructor at the School of Jazz at Lenox (MA) and presented the first jazz concert at Tanglewood '63, and toured eastern Europe lecturing for the State Department.

He published Early Jazz '68, an instant classic and still the most important (and readable) history/analysis of the subject, followed by The Swing Era '89, just as good. President of the New England Conservatory in Boston, he formed the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, arranged Joplin rags and made a hit LP of them: Scott Joplin: The Red Back Book was a no. 65 pop LP '73 on Angel (EMI's USA classical label); the arrangements were used in the film The Sting (for some reason Marvin Hamlisch got the Oscar). He formed the New England Conservatory Jazz Repertory Orchestra to play classic arrangements of Duke Ellington, McKinney's Cotton Pickers etc: albums Happy Feet: Tribute To Paul Whiteman, The Road From Rags To Jazz on Golden Crest. The New England Ragtime Ensemble issued The Art Of The Rag '89 on GM.

He continued composing, his works recorded for more than a dozen labels, not all reissued on CD so far (but there were listings in the Schwann Opus classical catalogue before Schwann disappeared). History seems to show that fusions can't be forced, but rather happen by themselves when no one is looking, like jazz itself; but 'third stream' is only a label, and anyway it is impossible to judge: much of this music has never even been played, let alone recorded. Schuller conducted pieces commissioned for the 1957 Brandeis University Festival of the Arts from John Lewis (Miles Davis played trumpet on 'Three Little Feelings' and made his recording debut on flugelhorn), J. J. Johnson, Charles Mingus, George Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Harold Shapero and Milton Babbitt; Schuller's own Symphony For Brass And Percussion was conducted by Dmitri Mitropoulos (studio recordings were made, Schuller's recording debut both as conductor and composer, the recordings issued on two LPs but out of print for decades until most of it was reissued on Birth Of The Third Stream '96 on Columbia). Jazz Abstractions '60 on Atlantic was reissued under John Lewis's name, but originally credited to Schuller and Ornette Coleman, the serialist composer and the untutored jazzman working so well together, fusing methods of variation and finding tension between writing for strings and jazz solos, that they should have single-handedly abolished the dividing lines between jazz and 'straight' musics.

Schuller formed a Third Stream department at the New England Conservatory '67, still run 30 years later by its original director Ran Blake. The Boston big band Orange Then Blue recorded eight arrangements '85-6 on GM with Schuller's son George on drums; excellent writing by members of the band including trumpeter Roy Olutani, who scored Mingus's 'Nostalgia In Times Square' as a concerto for John La Porta. The band's Jumpin' In The Future '88 (with guest Howard Johnson on tuba and bass clarinet) preserved some of Gunther's own big-band arrangement and compositions from '47-66: 'When The Saints Go Marchin' In' is an essay on the first four notes of the tune, written for Richard Maltby '58; 'Blue Moon' and others celebrate the work Gil Evans did for the Claude Thornhill band; 'Night Music', the title track (one of the first atonal compositions in jazz, '47) and the eleven-minute 'Teardrop' are fine originals. He conducted City Of Glass '93 on Channel Crossings, re-creating scores written for Stan Kenton by Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo and Franklyn Marks (recorded live in Holland with the Ebony Band, formed '90 by Werner Herbers, primarily of musicians from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). His book The Compleat Conductor was published '97; he left his post at the New England Conservatory, succeeded by Robert Freeman. He published a memoir, A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, in 2011, which was also a witness to a lot of 20th-century music.