Monday, November 6, 2017

Third Stream Music - From Three Perspectives - Part 3

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When Brandeis University held its fourth Festival of the Creative Arts in 1957 at least one of the programmes represented a most unusual gesture. It consisted of six specially commissioned jazz pieces, and, for what little such distinctions are worth, three were from jazzmen, two from straight composers sympathetic to jazz, and one from a musician active in both spheres.

Though universities are supposed to foster research and other original work, this for many years remained one of the few cases of such an institution doing anything practical to further jazz. To have promoted a concert at which a well known band marketed its familiar product would have been nothing, but here was created a situation in which something new might happen. And there was no aimless or self-indulgent experimenting, an encouragingly high standard being attained by all six composers. One of the pieces may be accounted a partial failure, yet these scores are a mine of ideas for further development.

It might be objected that such commissions, by removing normal commercial pressures, create an artificial situation, that music produced under such circumstances can offer no realistic insight on jazz potentialities, and that the point is proved by so few of the 'ideas for further development' having been widely followed up. But even now it is premature to say that, our perspective being too short. It must be remembered that at all periods of musical history the pieces which really made that history were in their own day the property of only a limited circle of initiates. True, such patronage will seldom be available for jazz until it is safely dead, but it is the worst sort of defeatism to discourage commissions because they are rare.

And there is nothing artificial about the fine quality of the jazz which resulted on this occasion: the best of it affords us a glimpse of the sort of music we might be able to expect if jazz ever breaks away from the normally almost crippling limitations and sense of values of the entertainment business to which it has always been linked. Besides, a good piece of music is its own justification, and compared to its enduring value the conditions under which it was created are finally of little interest.”
- Max Harrison, “The Brandeis Festival LP” in Jazz Retrospect

The Third Stream and After

The following excerpts by Terry Teachout appear in Bill Kirchner, Ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz and provide a nice recap of where Third Stream music has been as well as where it was in 2000, the year this book was published.

And, in contrast with Gunther Schuller retrospective assessment of the success of the music, Terry also does a thorough job of detailing some of the failures and disappointments associated with Third Stream music.

“Starting in the mid-'50s, the Modern Jazz Quartet, a New York—based ensemble led by John Lewis, recorded a series of compositions by Lewis, including "Vendome" (Prestige, 1954) and "Concorde" (Prestige, 1955), that resembled the experimental works of the West Coast school in their attempt to import fugal techniques into a small-group jazz context.

Around the same time, Lewis and the classical composer Gunther Schuller organized the Jazz and Classical Music Society (originally the Modern Jazz Society), a group devoted to the performance of music "written by composers in the jazz field who would not otherwise have an opportunity for their less-conventional work to be presented under concert conditions."

In 1956 a contingent from the Jazz and Classical Music Society recorded Music for Brass (Columbia, 1956), an album of compositions for brass ensemble by Lewis, Schuller, Jimmy Giuffre, and J. J. Johnson; the following year, a mixed ensemble of jazz and classical instrumentalists led by Schuller recorded Modern Jazz Concert (Columbia, 1957), a collection of six extended pieces by Schuller, Giuffre, Charles Mingus, George Russell, and the classical composers Milton Babbitt and Harold Shapero, all commissioned by and premiered at the 1957 Brandeis University Festival of the Arts. (The contents of these two albums, minus the pieces by Babbitt and Shapero, are now available on the Columbia CD The Birth of the Third Stream.)

Schuller contended in a lecture at the Brandeis Festival that these works represented a new synthesis of jazz and Western art music, which he dubbed "third stream music." Modern Jazz Concert and Music for Brass soon became the subject of intense debate in the jazz community, and numerous other composers, including Teo Macero, Friedrich Gulda, Andre Hodeir, Gary McFarland, Bill Russo, Eddie Sauter, and Lalo Schifrin, began to experiment with related compositional ideas.

Third stream music is typically (though not always) composed for mixed groups of jazz and classical instrumentalists. The standard jazz rhythm section is sometimes omitted — Russo's An Image of Man (Verve, 1958), for instance, is scored for alto saxophone, guitar and string quartet — and the regularly sounded beat of traditional jazz heard only intermittently. In most third stream works, fully written-out ensemble passages, often of considerable musical complexity, alternate with simpler improvised episodes involving one or more jazz soloists.

The inherent tension between composition and improvisation may be emphasized, as in Sauter's Focus (Verve, 1961), a suite for tenor saxophone and strings in which Stan Getz's solo part is completely improvised from beginning to end; in other pieces, such as Schuller's Transformation (Columbia, 1957), the improvised sections are carefully integrated into the larger compositional scheme.

The extent to which the original third stream composers drew on classical techniques varied considerably. Mixed-media works such as Schuller's Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra (Atlantic, 1960), in which the Modern Jazz Quartet performs the function of the "concertino" ensemble in a concerto grosso, and Giuffre's Piece for Clarinet and String Orchestra (Verve, 1959), a through-composed work whose solo part, though fully notated, presupposes idiomatic jazz inflection, clearly seek to reconcile the disparate elements of jazz and classical music. By contrast, J. J. Johnson's Poem for Brass (included on Music for Brass) and George Russell's All About Rosie (included on Modern Jazz Concert), which are intended for performance by jazz instrumentalists and contain no distinctively "classical" features, conform to the third stream model only in the relative complexity of their harmonic language and formal structure.

The third stream movement continues to this day under the auspices of Schuller and Ran Blake, who chaired the third stream department of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1973, and many highly imaginative mixed-media pieces, including Michael Gibbs's Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra (Gary Burton; ECM, 1973), Claus Ogerman's Symbiosis (Bill Evans; MPS, 1974) and Keith Jarrett's Arbour Zena (ECM, 1975), continued to be premiered and recorded well into the '70s.

Unfortunately, these compositions failed without exception to enter the working repertoires of established soloists and ensembles, and public performances of them are now rare. (Orchestra U.S.A., a third stream ensemble founded by John Lewis in 1962, disbanded three years later, and Stan Kenton's Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra, a similar group founded in 1965, was equally short-lived.) Much the same has been true of pieces by jazz composers specifically written for performance by classical musicians, such as Dave Brubeck's oratorio The Light in the Wilderness (1968), Roger Kellaway's ballet score PAMTGG (1971), and Anthony Davis's operas X (1985) and Amistad (1997).

The latter failure reflects a practical problem of stylistic integration which is also common to third stream music: not only are most classical musicians unable to improvise, but they find it difficult to realize in performance the unwritten rhythmic nuances intrinsic to the jazz idiom. (In addition, works in which electronically amplified jazz instrumentalists are accompanied by unamplified classical ensembles pose near-insuperable problems of acoustical balance in live performance.)

The larger failure of the third stream idea to engage the interest of more than a small number of major jazz soloists also suggests the possibility of an underlying incompatibility between jazz improvisation, with its spontaneous variations on regularly repeating harmonic patterns, and tightly organized classical structures such as sonata-allegro form, in which there is no room for discursive episodes that are freely improvised rather than organically developed.

For all these reasons, it may be that the future of attempts to synthesize jazz and classical music lies not in third stream works for traditional classical media or mixed groups but in substantially through-composed instrumental pieces written for large and medium-sized jazz ensembles.

Many of George Russell's compositions, including Jazz in the Space Age (Decca, 1960) and Living Time (Bill Evans; Columbia, 1972), fit this description, as do such works as Lalo Schifrin's The New Continent (Dizzy Gillespie; Limelight, 1962), in which Dizzy Gillespie is accompanied by a big band, and Carla Bley's A Genuine Tong Funeral (Gary Burton; Victor, 1967), a "dark opera without words" performed by Bley, the Gary Burton Quartet, and a five-piece horn section. Of comparable interest are such recent extended compositions for jazz orchestra as Bob Brookmeyer's Celebration (1997), Bill Holmes All About Thirds (1998), and Maria Schneider's ballet score The Hand That Mocked, the Heart That Fed (1998), which aspire to more rigorous formal challenges, as well as a higher degree of harmonic and contrapuntal complexity, than the big band scores of the past.

Whether such a synthesis is possible within the less structured framework of small-group improvisation remains to be seen, however, and given the fact that jazz continues to be primarily an improvisationally based small-group music, it seems probable that at least for the present, jazz and classical music will continue for the most part to travel on related but independent stylistic tracks.”

The following video montage is set to Carla Bley's Syndrome as arranged by Mike Abene and performed by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. It will serve as an example of Third Stream in 2009, the year it was recorded at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.