The Modern Jazz Quarter – Three Windows

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Jazz meets classical and the “third stream” begins

It was also in the 1950s that a greater rapprochement between jazz and classical music began to emerge. Like Lewis, many other jazz musicians were studying much of the great classical literature, from Bach to Béla Bartók, to expand their musical horizons. Classical musicians, too, were listening more seriously to jazz and taking a professional interest in it. The ideological and technical barriers between jazz and classical music were beginning to break down. In that climate an apparently new concept or style, termed “third stream” by Gunther Schuller [Ed. note: the author of this article], arose. But third stream music was only apparently new, since European and American composers—including Claude DebussyIgor StravinskyCharles Ives (using ragtime), Darius MilhaudMaurice RavelAaron CoplandJohn Alden CarpenterKurt Weill, and many others—had employed elements of jazz since early in the century. The difference in the 1950s and ’60s was that (1) the third stream amalgams began to include improvisation and (2) the traffic was now no longer on a one-way street from classical music toward jazz but was flowing in both directions. Spearheaded by Lewis and Schuller, the movement produced a wide variety of works and varying approaches to the process of cross-fertilization. Third stream began, particularly in the cultivated hands of pianist Ran Blake, to mate classical concepts and techniques with all manner of ethnic and vernacular musics and traditions as well as with jazz.

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