Gunther Schuller
1925 - 2015
{ "" }
Share Gunther's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share
NEW YORK (AP) — Gunther Schuller, a horn player, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who was the leading proponent of the Third Stream movement fusing jazz and classical music, died Sunday at age 89.

His son, Ed Schuller, said his father died Sunday morning at a hospital in Boston. He said his father had several medical conditions.

"He was a great musician. I loved him and we will miss him," Schuller, a bassist, said. "He had a great life, he lived his dream."

As a composer, Schuller wrote more than 200 compositions, including solo and orchestral works, chamber music, opera and jazz. His orchestral work, "Of Reminiscences and Reflections," dedicated to his wife Marjorie Black, won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Schuller, who was born on Nov. 22, 1925, in New York, came from a family of classical musicians. His grandfather was a conductor in Germany and his father was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic.

Schuller developed into a virtuoso on French horn. As a teenager, he began playing with the American Ballet Theater and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the '40s, and then joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where he remained until 1959.

Schuller discovered a whole new musical world when he heard Duke Ellington on the radio one night while doing his high school homework.

"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 said in a 2009 NPR interview. "And he almost had a heart attack because that was a heretical thing to say."

Schuller's newfound passion led him to frequent New York jazz clubs, where he became involved in the burgeoning bebop scene in the late 1940s. Although French horn was rarely used in jazz ensembles, Schuller began his jazz career as part of trumpeter Miles Davis' group that recorded the seminal 1949-50 "Birth of the Cool" sessions, which fused jazz and classical techniques. He would go on to perform and record with such jazz greats as J.J. Johnson, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.

In the mid-1950s, he teamed up with the classically trained jazz pianist John Lewis, musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, to form the Modern Jazz Society in an effort to bring jazz and classical music together. Schuller felt musicians from both genres could learn from each other.

During a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University, Schuller coined the term "Third Stream" to describe his vision of what would result if the two main streams of music in the U.S. got married and begat a child. Schuller and Lewis introduced their Third Stream compositions on two Columbia albums, "Music for Brass" and "Modern Jazz Concert" in 1957-58.

"When I started the whole thing in 1957 with the Third Stream ... it was extremely controversial," Schuller said in a 2010 interview with jazz writer Mark Myers. "I was vilified on both sides. Classical musicians, composers and critics all thought that classical would be contaminated by this lowly jazz music, this black music. And jazz musicians and critics said, 'My god, classical music is going to stultify our great, spontaneous music.' It was all nonsense and ignorance, of course. Eventually the two came together anyway."

Schuller and Lewis also founded the Lenox School of Jazz in western Massachusetts, which brought over Coleman from the West Coast for its summer program in 1959 shortly before the free jazz pioneer made his history-making New York debut.

By the 1960s, Schuller had largely given up performing to focus on composing, teaching and writing. He served as president of the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1967-77, where he established the first degree-granting jazz program at a major classical conservatory and instituted 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 best chamber music performance in 1973 for the album "Joplin: The Red Back Book" and helped spur a ragtime revival. Schuller won two more Grammys for writing liner notes.

In 1990, Schuller and David Baker founded and conducted the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, D.C., dedicated to performing and preserving American jazz masterpieces. He also helped put together an all-star orchestra and conducted a 1989 performance of the late jazz bassist Charles Mingus' epic work "Epitaph," which was also released on record. He regularly appeared as a guest conductor with orchestras.

As writer, Schuller authored both educational works and jazz histories, including "Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development" (1968) and "The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945." In 2011, he published the first volume of his autobiography, "Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty."

Schuller's 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" with text by John Updike, derived from the Grimm fairy tale.

His noted Third Stream-style compositions include "Transformation for Jazz Ensemble" (1957, "Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra (1959) and "Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960).

In 2008, Schuller was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation's highest jazz honor. Earlier this year, the MacDowell Colony, a prestigious artists' residence program, awarded him its lifetime achievement award "for setting an example of discovery and experimentation" as a composer and teacher.

CHARLES J. GANS, Associated Press

Copyright © 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Published in New York Times on Jun. 21, 2015.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
21 entries
December 1, 2016
Valenda Newell
April 21, 2016
Sending belated condolances your way from the cousins on the west coast - Edith Vogt Prack Hamilton, Anton Prack, Barbara Prack Benson
July 10, 2015
To the Schuller Family, May the God of All Comfort(Psalms 83:18) be a source of Comfort to you at this time.
K Johnson
July 1, 2015
Mr. Schuller's contribution to music is greatly loved and appreciated by music lovers every where. Surely such a man is in God's memory, and he is indeed very precious in God's eyes. My condolences to family and and all who knew him well!
July 1, 2015
Gunther Schuller was an extraordinary music mentor. I met him in 1966 at Tanglewood . I will never forget his kindness and support of my talent in music. May his soul rest in eternal peace. It was a privilege and a blessing to have worked with him.
nina deutsch
nina deutsch
June 24, 2015
Diploma in Flute, NEC 1975
Condolences to Mr. Schuller's family, friends and colleagues. He was a giant in music, and even more a giant in heart.
Elizabeth Watson
June 23, 2015
Offering condolences for your loss. May your cherished memories help to strengthen and comfort your hearts, and may God's loving kindness (Psalms 37:11, 29) bring peace and joy during difficult times.

June 23, 2015
Gunther Schuller with Miguel del Aguila at Chautauqua
Miguel del Aguila
June 23, 2015
Gunther Schuller - Miguel del Aguila at Chautauqua
You were always an inspiration. Thanks for the beautiful legacy of your work and for being such a beautiful person. You'll be missed!
Miguel del Aguila
June 22, 2015
Schuller family, please accept my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of your loved one. May the many memories you've shared ease the sorrow you now feel. May you also find comfort and strength from what God has promised to do in the near future. (Hosea 13:14)
Jerlyn Lewis
June 22, 2015
A legend in his field. He left so many good works for us to enjoy his genius. My condolences to the family.
Fred Sculco
June 22, 2015
Great man, composer, conductor, performer and selflessly dedicated ambassador for music - that was part of the total person, Gunther Schuller. I had the honor of being with him during the Sandpoint Festival and was inspired by his extraordinary degree of commitment to music of our time, and that of prior eras. His analysis of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring brought us all wisdom, as did the camaraderie of great jazz and classical musicians learning together, working together, eating together and playing recitals together. This festival represented his view that we all have much to acquire from one another, in music and in life. I've heard he could be gruff and that others were intimidated by him. In my experience, he was completely supportive, drawing parallels between my music and his, encouraging me with comments from which I will always draw strength and inspiration. I send my best to all who knew him, knowing a void now exists that will take several to fill
James Aikman
June 22, 2015
June 22, 2015
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
June 22, 2015
My deepest sympathies for your loss, may God lift up your face's and grant you peace. Galatians 6:8
Becky Leon
June 22, 2015
Dear Gunther,

It was an honor to work with you as your financial advisor as well as being your friend. I will truly miss seeing you and helping you. My practice feels very hollow without you. Your love and dedication to your craft is an inspiration to us all!! Your work here is finished, but your legacy and music will live on forever. Now it's time for you to Rest in Peace!

With all my thoughts and prayers to you, your sons, and to Jenny.


Paul Henry
June 22, 2015
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
June 22, 2015
Dear Ed and George , Very sorry to hear of the passing of your father. Please accept my thoughts and prayers. With sympathy and respect, Whit Browne
June 22, 2015
We'll miss you !
Adrian Barnette
June 22, 2015
Thank you for showing others we can live our dreams and for leaving us such a plethora of music to enjoy in your memory.
June 22, 2015
A friend, whose personal charm and incredible genius, will be greatly missed by all of us and the musical world in general.
He always brought to mind, Sinatra's song "My Way." If anyone embodied the theme of that song, it was Gunther. His contribution to music is uniquely unprecedented and will always be
remembered, as will he. God rest you Gunther.
Douglas Parker
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences