Gunther Schuller

Within one month, the world is celebrating the birthdays of two Big Band heroes. Duke Ellington, the pianist, composer and band leader, would have been 100 years old on April 29. Benny Goodman, the clarinetist and band leader, would have been 90 on May 30. Both were taking on the same challenge that the era posed to them, including the fraternization of jazz and classical music. Whereas Benny Goodman surprised his audiences with brilliant classical performances, Duke Ellington explored ever larger forms for his compositions over the years, being nothing short of the big classical works in their complexity. Another essential accomplishment was the integration of black and white musicians. During the early 1930s, there were important black bands and important white bands. In 1935, Benny Goodman had the courage to hire black pianist Teddy Wilson, and today, he is considered a pioneer of racial integration. In later years, Duke Ellington often called on the services of white musicians. Yet Goodman and Ellington had little contact with each other, and their personalities were quite different. One of the leading jazz experts who knew both of them personally is Boston-based composer Gunther Schuller. In an interview, Georg Hirsch has asked him whether the public image of the two musicians reflected reality. Was Duke Ellington always serene, and was Benny Goodman almost always aloof?

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