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Third Stream

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Third Stream music is a term coined in 1957 by Gunther Schuller referring to the synthesis of classical music and jazz. The style is notably separate from the symphonic jazz movement of the 1920s in that it involves improvisation. In 1961, Schuller defined Third Stream as "a new genre of music located about halfway between jazz and classical music." (Schuller, 114) Schuller insisted that "by definition there is no such thing as 'Third Stream Jazz.'" (Schuller, 120)

Schuller noted that while purists on both sides of Third Stream objected to tainting their favorite music with the other; more strenuous objections were typically made by jazz musicians who felt such efforts were "an assault on their traditions." Schuller writes that "by designating the music as a 'separate, third stream', the other two mainstreams could go about their way unaffected by the attempts at fusion." (Schuller, 115) Because Third Stream is involved in classical as much as jazz it is generally required that composers and performers be proficient in both genres.

Some critics have argued that Third Stream—by drawing on two very different styles—dilutes the power of each in combining them. Others reject such notions, and consider Third Stream an interesting musical development.

Schuller suggested that a similar fusion was made by Béla Bartók, who earned great acclaim after incorporating elements of Hungarian folk music into his music, which had earlier been heavily influenced by Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss.

In 1981, Schuller offered a list of "What Third Stream is not:

  1. It is not jazz with strings.
  2. It is not jazz played on 'classical' instruments.
  3. It is not classical music played by jazz players.
  4. It is not inserting a bit of Ravel or Schoenberg between be-bop changes--nor the reverse.
  5. It is not jazz in fugal form.
  6. It is not a fugue played by jazz players.
  7. It is not designed to do away with jazz or classical music; it is just another option amongst many for today’s creative musicians." (Schuller, 120)

There were very early attempts to integrate jazz and classical music such as some Ragtime, and symphonic pieces such as George Gershwin's 1924 Rhapsody In Blue. Some works by French composer Darius Milhaud have been classfied as Third Stream, but some object to this classification, because Milhaud's pieces arguably represent jazz material in the context of Western European art music (classical music), and do not involve improvisation. Igor Stravinsky contributed to this genre many compositions, including "Ragtime", "Piano-rag Rag Music" and "The Ebony Concerto" (the latter composed for jazz clarinetist Woody Herman and his orchestra in 1945;). Another important jazz-classical fusion was Shaw's "Interlude in B-flat," recorded in 1935 with the most unusual ensemble of a string quartet, a jazz rhythm section, and Shaw on clarinet. Other notable composers in the style are John Lewis and his Modern Jazz Quartet, Gunther Schuller, J. J. Johnson, Gil Evans, and Bill Russo, George Russell, Dave Brubeck and members of his Octet and Quartets (and his brother, Howard Brubeck), Toshiko Akiyoshi, David Amram, Ran Blake, Gunther Schuller, Gil Evans, and David Baker. Many free jazz composer/performers, such as Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, the band Oregon (free jazz band), and Sun Ra, were also influenced by the Third Stream school.

Third Stream proper was most popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, though it has exerted an influence to the present. While the elements of jazz are incorporated into the music of contempory composers and jazz musicians likewise continue to draw on their musical context, a true Third Stream Music is extremely rare as most efforts seem to favor one stream or shift between the two throughout the compostion. Examples of recordings that synthesize composed and improvised music are the albums Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Gil Evans; Focus Stan Getz, Eddie Sauter; Perceptions Dizzy Gillespie, J. J. Johnson; Alegria Wayne Shorter; Wide Angles Michael Brecker. These albums feature a soloist improvising in a jazz style over a complex composes background. Third Stream Music will be realized in its truest sense when more musicians learn at least basic jazz improvisation and style (especially players of traditionally "non-jazz" instruments such as strings, horn, double reed, etc.), thus opening up the possibilities of improvisation throughout the ensemble.


  • Gunther Schuller; Musings: The Musical Words of Gunther Schuller; Oxford University Press, 1986; 0195037456

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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