Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music & Beauty, Part II

We’re picking up the thread of a long conversation with Gunther Schuller, in his living room outside Boston.  He’s been a sort of one-man vessel of many revolutions in 20th century music, a player of many parts, too: a French horn virtuoso in orchestras led by Toscanini and Fritz Reiner, a modern composer still winning commissions in his 89th year, a jazz player back in the day too with Miles Davis, Bill Evans and the Modern Jazz Quartet; also a principal big-book historian of jazz in its early, swing and modern eras; and all his life an instigator of things, like the Ragtime revival that went to Hollywood in the 60s and 70s.

He’s the man who first mapped a Third Stream of “jazzical” music between classical and jazz temperaments.  So the thread in Gunther Schuller’s autobiography and our conversation so far has been the many musics in a sort of democracy of geniuses: Duke Ellington in the Pantheon with Beethoven and Mozart; Erroll Garner’s piano improvisations standing tall next to Shubert and Chopin.  It was Gunther Schuller’s line years ago that “all musics are created equal.”   By now his third stream is inundated by maybe 300 world streams of genius music.

 In this second half of our conversation, I’m asking a question I put to Richard Powers, the musically astute novelist of Orfeo, a couple of months ago: is there any summing up the 20th Century disruptions in tonality and rhythms of mainstream music?  And Gunther took it immediately to Igor Stravinsky, the Russian-born composer who started a riot in Paris in 1913 with “The Rite of Spring,” a riot that changed Gunther Schuller’s direction and in a sense, never ended.

Music in this show:

Louis Armstrong – Potato Head Blues

Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

Gunther Schuller – The Twittering Machine

John Lewis – Three Little Feelings

Ravi Shankar – Improvisations on the theme from ‘Panther Panchali’

Vijay Iyer – Brute Facts

Duke Ellington – Ko-ko

Duke Ellington – Harlem Air Shaft

Duke Ellington – Rockin’ in Rhythm

Duke Ellington – Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

John Coltrane – Coltrane Plays the Blues

John Lewis – Jazz Abstractions (composed by Gunther Schuller & Jim Hall)

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