"I am most delighted and deeply honored to receive the NEA Jazz Master Fellowship Award, especially since I’ve had a longtime association with the NEA, serving both on its Council and many of its panels. Many, many thanks!"
Recognized as a renaissance man of music, Gunther Schuller is a leader in both the classical and jazz traditions, contributing significant musical compositions and writings to expand jazz's horizons.
Schuller was born in 1925 in New York City. At age 17, he joined the Cincinnati Symphony as principal horn. Two years later, he joined the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera while also becoming actively involved in the New York bebop scene, performing and recording with such jazz greats as Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, and Charles Mingus.
When he was 25, Schuller took a teaching position at the Manhattan School of Music, beginning a long and distinguished teaching career that includes his tenure as co-director, along with David Baker, of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and professor of composition of music at Yale. In the late 1950s, he taught at the legendary Lenox School of Jazz. From 1967 to 1977, he was president of the New England Conservatory of Music where early in his tenure he established a jazz department offering both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. He was artistic director of Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center from 1970 to 1985.
Schuller is a proponent of what he called the Third Stream -- an effort to fuse the two primary streams of music, jazz and classical, into a new hybrid -- of which John Lewis was one of the main practitioners. Schuller also was an early admirer of Charles Mingus' music -- so much so that when a 19-movement score was discovered of an unproduced Mingus work, Epitaph, Schuller was asked to conduct the orchestra for the premiere at Lincoln Center in 1989 (produced with NEA support).
In 1975, he started recording and publishing businesses that focused on, among other genres, the compositions of Duke Ellington. He sold the two publishing companies in 2000 to G. Schirmer, Inc., but still retains the record company GM Recordings. Schuller also served as editor-in-chief of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Editions.
Schuller's jazz writings include Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968), considered one of the seminal books on the history of jazz, and The Swing Era (1989), the second volume of a planned three-volume history of jazz.
Schuller has written more than 180 compositions in a wide range of styles and has won many awards for his work, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize in music for Of Reminiscences and Reflections. Schuller also is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1991).
Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, Oxford University Press, 1968
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