(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.
— Sue Mingus
(Gunther Schuller at the Mingus Festival 2013, photo by Sue Mingus)
“Gunther Schuller’s passing is a major loss to the world of both classical and jazz music. Not many have covered the musical spectrum as he did. One of Schuller’s earliest collaborations with Charles Mingus was conducting a Mingus composition called “Revelations” in 1955 at the Brandeis Festival of the Creative Arts. His last association with Mingus music was editing and conducting Mingus’s magnum opus “Epitaph”— a work that was 4000 measures long, required thirty-one musicians and almost three hours to perform. It was premiered in 1989 at Philharmonic Hall in New York, and was subsequently performed at Wolf Trap, Tanglewood, Chicago Symphony Center, Cleveland Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony Hall, and other venues.” — Sue Mingus
Gunther helped dignify jazz as America’s classical music and he conducted Charles’s 3-hour masterwork Epitaph. His support was invaluable. It’s a major loss to our music.
(Photo: Gunther conducts Epitaph in 2007)