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Pulitzer Prize-Winning Musician Gunther Schuller Dies At 89

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's now remember a man who brought two musical worlds together. Composer Gunther Schuller died yesterday at 89.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERTINO FOR JAZZ QUARTET AND ORCHESTRA SONG)

GREENE: This is Schuller's Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra. It's one example of the blend of classical and jazz music that Schuller pioneered.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Until he started mixing those styles in the 1940s and '50s, they belonged in separate worlds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GUNTHER SCHULLER: I said, my God, these two great musics, and they are in separate camps. They don't talk to each other. They hate each other. They vilify each other. We got to get these musics together.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNTHER SCHULLER COMPOSITION)

GREENE: That was Schuller talking NPR in 2009. He was originally a classical French horn player. For more than a decade, he performed in the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. But since he was a teenager, he had been equally obsessed with jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SCHULLER: I said to my father, you know, Pop, I heard some music, Duke Ellington, last night, and, you know, that music is as great as Beethoven's and Mozart's. And my, you know, almost had a heart attack because that was a heretical thing to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNTHER SCHULLER COMPOSITION)

INSKEEP: Schuller when right ahead. He recorded with a jazz musician Charles Mingus. And in 1950, he was on the Miles Davis record "Birth Of The Cool."

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS ALBUM, "BIRTH OF THE COOL")

INSKEEP: In the 1960s, Schuller started spending less time performing and more time teaching as well as composing. As president of the New England Conservatory, he created the first Jazz degree program at a major classical institution.

GREENE: One of his compositions won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. It was a remembrance of his late wife called "Of Reminiscences and Reflections."

(SOUNDBITE OF COMPOSITION, "OF REMINISCENCES AND REFLECTIONS")

INSKEEP: And Schuller kept composing well into his 80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SCHULLER: Why are we sitting there with a blank piece of paper, manuscript paper, and an idea comes to us suddenly? Where does it come from, you know? We don't know. We will never know.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNTHER SCHULLER COMPOSITION)

GREENE: But the ideas just kept coming. Before his death, yesterday, he composed almost 200 works overall.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNTHER SCHULLER COMPOSITION) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.