Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first of three “Musings” that will be posted in advance of the BSO’s Journeys concert on November 22.
Journey Into Jazz (1962)
When it comes to the late Gunther Schuller (1925-2015), it can truly be stated that he led one of the most interesting lives you can imagine.
He was born a New Yorker as the result of his father’s employment as a violinist with the heralded New York Philharmonic. One would think a job like that would be enough to tie the Schullers to America forever but when Gunther was quite young they naively sent him to a boarding school in his ancestral home of Germany… in 1932. Predictably, things did not go well. Between a rather unfortunate accident involving a knife which cost him an eye and the mandatory enrollment in the Hitlerjungend he was unhappy enough to plead to come home to New York City leaving a good deal of ugliness in his life behind him.
Musically, he proved to be prodigious in many ways. His first efforts where in vocal music and he moved to the horn where he ascended to some notoriety. So much so, that he earned the opportunity to play in the New York Philharmonic as a substitute under task master Arturo Toscanini. He dropped out of high school, never went to any music school or conservatory, and called the conductors he played under and the scores he studied his teachers!
What splendid teachers they must have been as Gunther satisfied his thirst to share his musical knowledge with students at the Manhattan School of Music, Yale, and the New England Conservatory. During his tenure as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra his interest in composing and conducting grew to the point where he left in order to devote his time to writing.
By this time his fascination and love for modern jazz led him to meet up and get to know the luminaries of the jazz world such as Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, and singer Sarah Vaughn. Jazz began to creep its way into his classical writing. Indeed, one of the movements of his most well-known composition, Seven Studies on Themes by Paul Klee, contains a piece called “Little Blue Devil”, whereupon the 1st trumpet must play complex lines in a be-bop style.
So, it is no surprise that Schuller was interested in tracing the musical growth of a fictional young trumpeter in his piece, Journey Into Jazz. Protagonist Eddie Jackson learns to play the trumpet in a typical path until he meets some young men who play jazz regularly together. What Eddie learns is that expressing oneself is more than learning technique and notes and rhythms. It is about using an instrument to speak a language from the heart after many years of studying with your head.
Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Journeys” featuring Minnesota Orchestra trumpet player Charles Lazarus and his Jazz Quintet, as soloists, along with narrator James Lileks. The concert takes place on Sunday, November 22 at 3 p.m. at the Schneider Theater at the Bloomington Center for the Arts.