(Sue Mingus & Gunther Schuller at St. Bart’s Church, Manhattan, 2011)
I grieve along with everyone who loved Gunther Schuller. Gunther was a friend for over thirty years. He was a colossus in music, a force in nearly every genre from classical to jazz, a composer, conductor, arranger, educator, performer. He was also an impassioned advocate for Charles Mingus music, from the first concert he produced with Mingus in the early Sixties, to his editing and conducting of Mingus’s three-hour masterwork “Epitaph” after his death, to his major participation in the annual Mingus High School Competition at Manhattan School of Music. From my own perspective no one did more to elevate and promote Mingus besides Charles Mingus himself.
He was available whenever you needed him, he never said no. If you called he stayed on the phone whatever he might have been doing— and he was always doing something: preparing to conduct a concert, writing a string quartet, organizing notes for a class he was teaching. I once took a photograph of Gunther sound asleep on a plane, his head resting on music scores that were spread out on the fold-out table in front of his seat. My grandfather used to say if you wanted something done, take it to a busy man. Gunther was the embodiment of that saying.
Missing Gunther has just begun. We held a tribute last week at the club where the Mingus Big Band has a weekly residency. We performed arrangements Gunther made for the band. I imagine we will go on performing them for a long while.
For the third time in five years, the Medfield jazz band not only earned one of the few coveted spots in the national Charles Mingus High School Competition & Festival in New York, but this time around it also took home an “Outstanding Section” award for trombone. The weekend kicked off with a visit to a New York jazz club Friday night, followed by clinics with renowned artists, jam sessions with students from across the country, live jazz on Saturday and then the competition and awards ceremony on Sunday. Medfield was one of a dozen ensembles in total that performed in the competition.