is a performer, multi-instrumentalist most known for saxophone, composer, collaborator, and educator. His music is informed by the jazz tradition, but he’s just as likely to play with a string quartet, classical new music group, or as an electronic artist. As a “performing composer”, he’s been on stages throughout the US, South America, and Europe, “from Carnegie Hall, to the middle of the ocean, to the back of a truck.” Some current projects include a collaboration with the Moroccan musician Fourat Koyo, musical adventures with Safari Trio, funky beats with Bad Hombres and music, performance, art, and technology with the Boulder Laptop Orchestra (BLOrk). As a recording artist, Gunther recently collaborated with the renowned Carpe Diem String Quartet to create the album Trickster Tales. Gunther’s forthcoming album with his newest group, the New West Quartet, is called East and West, features both American and European jazz musicians, and will be released by Fresh Sound Records. Gunther has performed and recorded with many other jazz luminaries from Jimmy Heath and Ron Miles to The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and The Woody Herman Orchestra. As part of New York city’s “downtown” music scene for many years, he produced five recordings for Creative Improvised Music Projects (CIMP) and did every type of gig you can imagine, including Broadway pit orchestras. He can be booked for gigs and contacted about collaborations or commissions, as well as teaching opportunities, such as residencies and master classes.
Gunther’s music is informed by the jazz tradition, but he’s just as likely to play with a string quartet, classical new music group, or as an electronic artist. He says, “In the 21st Century, we have access to the sum total of human knowledge in our pockets, and as artists we’re tasked with figuring out how to process that.” So he draws from different sounds—from world music, to folk, to classical, to chamber—following “style tributaries” to see where they go.
As a “performing composer”, Gunther has been on stages throughout the US, South America, and Europe, “from Carnegie Hall, to the middle of the ocean, to the back of a truck,” he quips. He has instigated and led many unique projects with other musicians. Some current groups include a collaboration with the Moroccan musician Fourat Koyo, exploring jazz and traditional Gnawa music from North Africa; Safari Trio, who take listeners on a musical adventure including Indian Raga, Arabic Maqam, Balkan dances, and African rhythms; and Bad Hombres, who are described as funky, cool, original, and progressive. Gunther also does solo work integrating the latest electronic gadgetry and leads the Boulder Laptop Orchestra [BLOrk], exploring the intersection of music, performance, art, and technology.
“At the core, what I do is about melodicism,” Gunther says, explaining that he doesn’t want to bludgeon his listeners with dissonance and complexity, rather he wants to connect with them through music that is prepared with care and devotion, and performed at a high-level—music that draws them in to an experience they can get lost in.
As a recording artist, Gunther recently collaborated with the renowned Carpe Diem String Quartet to create the album Trickster Tales. “Trickster” in the title refers to Gunther’s setting of a West African folktale with each movement incorporating a different musical tradition from Africa. Also recorded are his arrangements of tunes by Thelonious Monk who himself had a trickster persona. Gunther describes the collaboration as a celebration “of the joy and breadth that happens in music when like-minded artists get together to have some fun.”
Gunther’s forthcoming album with his newest group, the New West Quartet, is called East and West and features both American and European jazz musicians who share a rich history of friendship and love of music. The album will be released by Fresh Sound Records.
Other career highlights for Gunther include performing and recording with many jazz luminaries such as Jimmy Heath, Ron Miles, Dave Douglas, Dewey Redman, Christian McBride, Bill Frisell, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, The Woody Herman Orchestra, and The Maria Schneider Orchestra, as well as having guest appearances with the Sinfonietta Paris Chamber Orchestra and the Banda Nacional de Cartago in Costa Rica. He also lived and played in New York for 13 years, including in Broadway pit orchestras.
Gunther is also an educator (he himself graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, did his Masters in Miami, and a PhD at New York University) and is proud to be the Director of the Thompson Jazz Studies Program at the University of Colorado. “Music is made up of communities, and academia is one of them,” says Gunther. “We’re all still students of art and music and teaching is very much an exchange between teacher and student.”
Speaking of art, it is as an artist that Gunther most identifies, saying that calling himself an artist helps place him in the world and understand himself better. He grew up with a mother who was a painter and saw how her paintings documented her life, which is what music has done for him. It’s also how he’s found his fellow travellers with whom he can approach music as nourishment for the soul—like air or water—that can entertain, inspire, inform, heal, and help connect us to our emotions and each other.
Gunther lives in Boulder, Colarado with his music teacher wife and their “spiritual leader” (otherwise known as Toby the cat). He can be booked for gigs and contacted about collaborations or commissions, as well as teaching opportunities, such as residencies and master classes.