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



American composer, conductor, horn player,

Genre: Jazz

Location: New York City

Date Born: November 22, 1925
New York City

Date Died: June 21, 2015

Website:   Pro Arte biography of Gunther Schuller

Other Links: See below:


Gunther Schuller (November 22, 1925 – June 21, 2015) was an American composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, and jazz musician.

Schuller was born in New York City, 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. During his youth, he attended the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music. 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. 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 premiere 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.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Schuller was president of New England Conservatory, where he founded The New England Ragtime Ensemble. During this period, he also held a variety of positions at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Tanglewood, serving as director of new music activities from 1965 to 1969 and as artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center from 1970 to 1984 and creating the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music.

Schuller was editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Another recent effort of preservation was his editing and posthumous premiering at Lincoln Center in 1989 of Charles Mingus’s immense final work, Epitaph, subsequently released on Columbia/Sony Records. He was the author of two major books on the history of jazz.

His students included Irwin Swack Ralph Patt, John Ferritto, Eric Alexander Hewitt, Mohammed Fairouz, Oliver Knussen, Nancy Zeltzman, Riccardo Dalli Cardillo and hundreds of others. See: List of music students by teacher: N to S#Gunther Schuller.

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

From 1993 until his death, Schuller served as Artistic Director for the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, Washington. Each year the festival showcased works by J.S. Bach and other composers in landmark venues around Spokane. At the 2010 festival, Schuller conducted the Mass in B Minor at St. John’s Cathedral, sung by the chamber choir from Eastern Washington University, accompanied by the Spokane Symphony. Other notable performances conducted at the festival include the St. Matthew Passion in 200 and Handel’s Messiah in 2005.

Schuller’s association with Spokane began with guest conducting the Spokane Symphony for one week in 1982. He then served as Music Director from 1984 – 1985 and has since regularly appeared as a guest conductor. Schuller also serves as Artistic Director to the nearby Festival at Sandpoint.

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.

In 2011 Schuller published the first volume of a two-volume autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty.

In 2012, Schuller premiered a new arrangement, the Treemonisha suite from Joplin’s opera. It was performed as part of The Rest is Noise season at London’s South Bank in 2013.

Schuller died June 21, 2015, “…with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy playing by his bedside.”

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. In 2005, a festival of Schuller’s music directed by Bruce Brubaker involved the Boston Symphony, Harvard University, and New England Conservatory.

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)


As arranger

With John Lewis
The Queen’s Fancy (Verve, 1955)
Django (Verve, 1955)

As conductor

On Birth of the Third Stream
Three Little Feelings (Columbia, 1957)
Poem For Brass (Columbia, 1957)
Pharaoh (Columbia, 1957)
Suspensions (Columbia, 1957)

With The Modern Jazz Quartet
Exposure (Atlantic, 1960)

With Gerard Schwarz (cornet) and the Columbia Chamber Ensemble
Turn of the Century Cornet Favorites (CBS/Columbia Records, 1977) (M 34553)

With Dizzy Gillespie
Perceptions (Verve, 1961)

With Charles Mingus
Mingus Revisited (Limelight, 1960)

As sideman

With Frank Sinatra
Come Back To Sorrento (Columbia, 1950)
April in Paris (Columbia, 1950)
I Guess I’ll Have To Dream The Rest (Columbia, 1950)
Nevertheless (Columbia, 1950)

With Mitch Miller
Conversation Piece (Columbia, 1951)
Horns O’ Plenty (Columbia, 1951)
Horn Belt Boogie (Columbia, 1951)
Serenade For Horns (Columbia, 1951)

With Gigi Gryce
Smoke Signal (Signal, 1955)
In A Meditating Mood (Signal, 1955)
Speculation (Signal, 1955)
Kerry Dance (Signal, 1955)

With Johnny Mathis
Prelude To A Kiss (Columbia , 1956)
Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words) (Columbia, 1956)

With Miles Davis
Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1949/50, released 1957)

With Dizzy Gillespie
Gillespiana (Verve, 1960)
Carnegie Hall Concert (Verve, 1961)

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.
Horn Technique Oxford University Press, 1962. New Printing 1992.
Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. University of Rochester Press, 2011.