Mid-Century Breakthrough: "Third Stream" Music - Page 5

When a meeting of classical and jazz in the 1950s sparked controversy and an era of new exploration

The Third Stream was in its infancy when its creator, Gunther Schuller, assembled three composers from each of the two tributaries and a team of top-flight performers in 1957 for the Brandeis University Festival of the Arts. For its original LP release, 'Modern Jazz Concert' (Columbia), the performance was recorded in the studio a few days following the festival concert.

The same recording was re-mastered and released on the Gambit label in 2005 under the somewhat misleading title, 'Bill Evans and Orchestra: Brandeis Jazz Festival,' favoring Evans's brilliant delivery of all the piano parts but ignoring the compelling and variegated contributions of other instrumentalists (including Art Farmer and Jimmy Knepper) and the composers themselves (including Schuller, Mingus, and Giuffre). This is arguably one of the best, broadest, and most accessible recordings of Third Stream material, though the bonus tracks are pretty much post-bop Evans (from the '57 Newport Festival).

album cover mjq Partly because of and not in spite of its classical caste (including a take on Joaquin Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez'), the pairing of the haunting trumpet of Miles Davis with the suave stylings of arranger Gil Evans made 'Sketches of Spain' (Columbia/Sony) a commercially successful and broadly appealing demonstration of a Third Stream approach, though neither man would have labeled it that way when it was produced in 1959.

A similar (though much briefer) collaboration, between visionary saxophonist Stan Getz and arranger Eddie Sauter, resulted in the highly recommended 'Focus' (Verve/Polygram) two years later, with Getz improvising over a big-band delivery of Sauter's fanciful tone poems.

Closer in mood to the Evans-Davis 'Sketches,' but even more personal and passionate, was Charles Mingus's 1963 suite, 'The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady' (Impulse/GRP), another 'concept album' in a Third Stream mode, with music scored but allowing for improvisation from the 11-piece ensemble, including bassist Mingus, trombonist Quentin Jackson, and alto player Charlie Mariano.

Though not recorded until 1973 (and now available on a Flying Fish CD), David Amram's 'Triple Concerto For Woodwind, Brass, Jazz Quintets, and Orchestra' maintained the composer's allegiance to Third Stream principles, which he'd manifested in the '50s, before and after his studies with Schuller. His jazz-wise setting of full orchestra and solo violin sections is a fascinating study.

Listeners with a liking for these exemplars from the Third Stream may want to check out the self-produced recordings of Fred Tompkins (available from thirdstreammedia.com), as well as reissues of mid-century work and newer releases by Dave Brubeck, Yusef Lateef, John Lewis, and such contemporary crossover chamber groups as the Turtle Island String Quartet, Kronos Quartet, and Quartet San Francisco.

Special thanks to Mickey McGowan of the Unknown Museum for archival research and graphic support

Photos: Richard A. Weisgrau (courtesy Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of Pacific Library copyright Dave Brubeck); Antonino Siragusa and Bachrach (courtesy Gunther Schuller and GM Recordings); and courtesy Miles Evans, David Amram, Fred Tompkins