Composer Gunther Schuller and tenor sax giant Joe Lovano may already have made the year’s best jazz record.
Tonight, they’ll collaborate again, this time on the Festival at Sandpoint stage in a show called “Gunther Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz.”
Lovano stands at the top of the jazz world: this month, Down Beat magazine names him Jazz Musician of the Year and “Rush Hour” album of the year.
“It’s been a wild year,” the burly, genial Lovano acknowledged earlier this week, fresh from a European tour with the Paul Motian Quintet. “Actually, the last few years have been snowballing.”
Indeed, the ‘90s have belonged to the Cleveland native. His adventuresome, challenging jazz stands in stark contrast to the conservatism that dominates today’s scene, and “Rush Hour” is simply the latest - and the most ambitious - in a string of exceptionally wellconceived and executed records.
For the past four years, he also has been an instructor of jazz at the Schweitzer Institute of Music, which Schuller directs.
Gunther Schuller is best known these days as a composer of contemporary classical music - he won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Music - but 30 years ago, he was an active force in jazz.
In his work with Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and the Modern Jazz Quartet, he introduced elements of classical composition, hoping to help jazz break free of its reliance on the 32-bar song form and the 12-bar blues.
“I have always tried to bring the worlds of classical and jazz together and have both worlds learn from each other,” he said this week. But only a handful of jazz musicians - Charles Mingus, most notably - experimented seriously with extended forms, and after a period of intense activity, Schuller drifted away from the scene.
“I don’t have any idea what happened,” he said, “I just became the forgotten man, you know.”
But now, three decades later, a Schuller composition is back at the heart of jazz, courtesy of Joe Lovano, the man who most completely dominates today’s tenor sax landscape.
“Rush Hour” is a dazzling mix of three primary elements: symphonic arrangements of jazz standards, a handful of original Schuller compositions and some Lovano originals.
The lushly-scored standards stand in contrast to the bite of Schuller’s originals and Lovano’s dense, urgent pieces. All feature heavy chunks of Lovano’s on-the-edge saxophone.
The record had its genesis at the Festival at Sandpoint when Lovano heard Schuller’s modern piano concerto for three hands.
But the older man’s influence goes back further than that, Lovano said this week.
“Some of the things he did early on with Dolphy and Coleman - the string quartets he wrote for them - always inspired me. I wanted to work with those sounds on this record, plus do some classics by Ellington, Monk and Mingus.”
Tonight’s show will feature Lovano and the other members of the jazz faculty performing with the Spokane Symphony in a reading of Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz. The quartet - it includes Kenny Werner on piano, Ed Schuller on bass and Billy Hart on drums - will perform a short intermission set, and then Schuller will conduct the symphony in a collection of his symphonic arrangements of Broadway standards.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Gunther Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz Location and time: Memorial Field in Sandpoint, today, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $27.50 reserved, $18.90 general, $9.70 juniors