Saturday, November 4, 2017

Third Stream Music - From Three Perspectives - Part 2

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

“The world of music in the 1950s was still for the most part divided among sharply defined lines of musicians who, on the jazz side, could not (or preferred not to) read music — and then only of the simplest and most jazz-conventional kind — and also could not improvise on anything but traditional tonal "changes;" while on the "classical" side musicians could not improvise, could not swing, could barely capture the unique rhythmic inflections and expanded sonorities of jazz.”
- Gunther Schuller

A word of caution at the outset.

This is a fairly complicated feature, both in terms of the technical nature of some of the material it treats and because of the density of many of the annotations.

But if you ever wanted to know anything about the origin and early development of Third Stream Music, these discussions are invaluable as a basic primer.

My suggestion is not to try and retain it all but to let the explanations just wash over you to gain a basic awareness and a feel for what was involved in this melding of Jazz and Classical forms that resulted in the birth of the Third Stream.

One thing I’m certain of is that you are going to enjoy pianist Bill Evans’ magnificent performance on the 3rd section of composer George Russell’s All About Rosie in the video montage that closes this piece.

Our second take. then, on Third Stream Music centers around two recordings that pretty much represent the defining moment in Third Stream Music:

[1] the Columbia Jazz LP Music for Brass: The Brass Ensemble of the Jazz and Classical Music Society [released April 1, 1957 as CL 941] and
[2] the Columbia Jazz LP Modern Jazz Concert: Six Compositions Commissioned by the Brandeis University Festival of the Arts [released June 16, 1958 WL 127].

The eight tracks that make up these two LPs were combined and reissued as one CD in 1996 under the title: The Birth of the Third Stream [Columbia Legacy CK 64929].

In many ways, the 1957 Brandeis University Concert and the subsequent 1958 Columbia recording also represent the apotheosis of Third Stream Jazz, at least in its initial form. One could certainly make the argument that the Third Stream ethos continued in the works of Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, Carla Bley, Michael Gibbs, Eddie Sauter, many of the compositions by various composers associated with Stan Kenton's neophonic orchestra, some of the repertoire of The Metropole [especially under Vince Mendoza] and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, both based in Holland, and in the repertoire of some of the “Radio” Orchestras based in Germany, particularly the WDR under the direction of Mike Abene.

The combined music that forms The Birth of the Third Stream is exhaustively described and discussed in the inserts notes that accompany the CD as written by Gunther Schuller, one of the principal organizers of the Third Stream movement and by George Avakian, the producer of both LPs for Columbia.

Or as explained in the Preface to the notes:

“For a clearer understanding of the unique importance and long-range impact of these eight compositions, we have reproduced in totality the liner of the original LP release of Music For Brass (Columbia CL-941) followed by the pertinent portions of the annotation for Modern Jazz Concert (Columbia WL-127).


“The Jazz and Classical Music Society is an organization started in 1955 by John Lewis and Gunther Schuller (it was then called the Modern Jazz Society) to present authoritative and exemplary concert performances of rarely heard music. The emphasis was placed on contemporary music, including that 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.

The Society gave a concert at Town Hall in New York in 1955 and planned a second one in 1956, which was canceled when an unexpected conflict developed with a performance by the New York Philharmonic Symphony of the key work of the Society's program, Gunther Schuller's "Symphony For Brass And Percussion." Work had already begun in recording some of the music to have been presented at that concert; so it was completed nonetheless, and this album is the finished result.

The aims of the Society were, and are, of a nature designed to bring together musicians in both the "classical" and jazz fields. Gunther Schuller exemplifies this intention in this recording, in that he appears as a composer whose work is conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, as a conductor of the works by the jazz musicians (whose compositions, however, are not jazz as such), and even as a performer in the Brass Ensemble.

The grave problem of preparing good performances of difficult music is only one of the reasons for forming the Society, but as musicians and composers, both Lewis and Schuller felt that it was an extremely important one. For years they felt that the greatest obstacle to the appreciation of unfamiliar music is the number of poor performances. The cost of adequate rehearsals and the finding and assembling of capable, willing musicians (not to speak of the countless musical and stylistic problems involved) made first-rate performances of new music a great rarity. When they do occur, they are inevitably the result of considerable financial expense, selfless devotion to the music, an ability to resist the temptations of compromise, and. needless to say, the necessary musical qualifications of the interpreters. Therefore Lewis and Schuller decided that only a society of musicians (and their friends, whose support and contributions have been invaluable), devoted to such an idea, could accomplish these goals under the present conditions of the concert field.

The Society's planning of its concerts to date has been centered around various basic instrumentations. Thus in the first concert the emphasis was on woodwinds, supported by a harp and the Modern Jazz Quartet, a combination of instruments which resulted in a more or less subdued chamber music sound. In the second concert (which will now be given in the fall of 1957), the planning turned to a large brass ensemble, building the program around the Schuller Symphony. With this piece as the representative of contemporary "classical" music, two Gabrieli works to exemplify the earliest innovations in brass writing over 300 years ago, and with the jazz world represented by three of its most outstanding performer-composers, an unusually complete sampling of all aspects of brass writing and playing was programmed. All but the Gabrieli pieces can be heard on this recording.

Gunther Schuller's "Symphony For Brass And Percussion" was first performed (minus the last movement) in 1950, and presented in its entirety for the first time in the following year at an ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) concert, Leon Barzin conducting. It has also been used by Jose Limon as the foundation for one of his choreographies, "The Traitor."

In Gunther's own words, "The purpose in writing this work was primarily to write a symphony. Secondarily, it provided me with an opportunity to make use of my experiences of sitting day in, day out in the midst of brass sections, and to show that the members of the brass family are not limited to the stereotypes of expression usually associated with them. Thus, there is more to the horn than its "heroic" or "noble" or "romantic" character, or to the trumpet than its usefulness in fanfares. Indeed these instruments are capable of the entire gamut of expression. Their full resources and the amazing advances made—especially in America—in the last 30-odd years have been left largely unexploited by most contemporary composers.

"The concept of the symphony is of four contrasting movements, each representing one aspect of brass characteristics. Unity is maintained by a line of increasing inner intensity (not loudness) that reaches its peak in the last movement. The introductory first movement is followed by a scherzo with passages requiring great agility and technical dexterity. The third movement, scored almost entirely for six muted trumpets, brings about a further intensification of expression. The precipitous outburst at the beginning of the last movement introduces a kind of cadenza in which the first trumpet predominates. A timpani roll provides a bridge to the finale proper, which is a sort of Perpetuum mobile. Running through the entire movement are sixteenth-note figures, passing from one instrument to another in an unending chain. Out of this chattering pattern emerges the climax of the movement, in which a chord consisting of all 12 notes of the chromatic scale is broken up in a sort of rhythmic atomization, each pitch being sounded on a different 16th of the measure."

As for a discussion of the other works, let's have Gunther, who conducted tliem, take over at this point.—G.A.

Just about the only common denominator among the three jazz scores is the instrumentation. In every other respect, the three works are widely contrasting and represent three definite styles and personalities. Where J.J., the most eclectic (and the only brass player) of the three, delights in extracting rich, full-bodied sonorities from the instruments, Giuffre in his score tends toward a leaner, more concentrated, almost completely contrapuntal concept of brass-writing; and John Lewis seems to me to stand somewhere between the two. Where J J. uses the instruments with an intimate knowledge of their every subtle characteristic (and even with a certain degree of caution) which is directly attributable to his first-hand knowledge of brass instruments, Giuffre makes them more subservient to the musical material. Again John seems to combine the best of both concepts.

J J. Johnson's "Poem For Brass" opens with a stately introduction, alternating the full brass with cymbal rolls which lead to the main body of the movement, an allegro. Mixtures of muted and open brass predominate. Miles Davis soon enters, improvising over (and at times almost absorbed by) a constantly active background. J J. then also solos, in his best unequivocal manner, using previously stated thematic material. A sudden slackening of the tempo leads to an interlude in which the four horns (led by Joe Singer) and the tuba indulge in some luscious parallel harmonics. The following section features Joe Wilder's sensuous trumpet in a ballad-like strain.

Osie Johnson's cymbal sets the pace in the third movement, subtitled Meter And Metal. Various brass combinations, sparked by Bernie Glow's driving trumpet, alternate with cymbal breaks. Soon the line of continuity is broken; short chordal outbursts remain, isolated, as if left hanging in silence. Suddenly the six trumpets in unison announce the theme of the following free fugue which forms the main body of the movement. The tuba starts the fugal ball rolling, and as various groups of instruments enter, the web of sound thickens, and the impending climax becomes inevitable. At this point JJ. has ingeniously combined five contrapuntal lines which Bound perfectly, both horizontally and vertically; i.e.—they make sense both as melodic lines and as harmonic progressions. Milt Hinton's wonderful bass gives this section a special lift. This idea having run its course, four final declamations based on material from the first two movements bring the work to an exciting close. The golden-toned high C# that John Ware came up with at half past three in the morning to end the session seemed to me at the time like the final strike-out in a pitcher's no-hit game.

John Lewis' "Three Little Feelings" show a side of his musical personality not generally known to those who know him only from his work with the MJ.Q. The instrumentation gave him an opportunity to present a more forceful side of himself and to work with a wider dynamic range than the more intimate level of the quartet would seem to allow.

Without benefit of introduction, three thematic motifs, drawn in solid unison lines, present themselves in quick succession. These three themes, cast in a minor key, emphasize a certain blue-note feeling, in this case through the use of the flatted fifth. As the themes pile up on top of each other one by one, an ominous note is introduced by a timpani and cymbal roll; but this is quickly dispersed by a relaxing trombone counter melody, played by JJ. Soon Miles enters, playing one of the three motives, a chromatic four-note pattern whose center of gravity is the flatted fifth. Out of this eight-bar statement emerges his first improvisation, disarming in its simplicity and economy, but blending perfectly into the character of the piece. Osie Johnson's strong playing sparks the next section, a powerful, snapping outburst in the brass. Later against a background of richly voiced lower brass. Miles returns for a short solo, as if reminiscing, and the piece closes with an almost Brahmsian feeling of gravity.

The second movement, again featuring Miles, presents John in an even more nostalgic and poignant mood. An idyllic atmosphere pervades everything, especially in the middle section where John gently extends two measures in such a way as to give them an almost timeless feeling. The undulating movement in the trombones and baritones makes the chord seem suspended in time, while Miles is free to wander about unhampered, as it were. Also listen to the rich tone of Bill Barber's tuba as he underlines the entire piece, blending when necessary with Milt Hinton's bass.

The third movement returns to the minor key and tempo of the first section. A horn call, beautifully intoned by Jim Buffington, introduces the piece. Then a variant of the chromatic motive from the first movement makes its appearance, leading to JJ.'s finely conceived, perky 40-bar solo. A strong climax and a recapitulation of the horn call (this time played by all four horns) end the piece. In this movement, John has made particularly excellent use of the timpani, without resorting to mere effects or bombastic noise.

These pieces are superb examples of John Lewis' creative talent. In a very simple, unspectacular way, he combines the romantic and the classical in a judicious blending. His great melodic gift is veiy much in evidence. John has that rare ability to create a melody which is thoroughly conventional, immediately hummable. sounds as if one had heard it somewhere before, and yet is in fact absolutely original. Above all, this music has that unassailable quality of lightness for which there is no substitute.

Giuffre's approach, as indicated above, is quite different. In his own words, "brass instruments in large numbers suggest to me ceremonies of perhaps a royal nature, a sense of excitement, as though something momentous were about to happen."

The stage is set by the timpani, playing a rhythm which, says Giuffre, "suggested Egypt to me, and when the brass enter, I imagined the approach of a great Pharaoh and his court; hence the title."

The form of the work is quite original, developing out of the thematic material itself. Different sections feature different groups and material. Outstanding, for instance, is the magnificent six-part writing for

trumpets alone (about halfway through the piece), where Bernie Glow's high C shines forth like a beacon in the (lark. Another highly interesting moment is the bridge featuring a trio of trumpet, horn and timpani. The difficult high horn part is played with consummate ease by Joe Singer.

All the thematic material is finally gathered together for the final climactic section which ends in a blaze of sound, topped by Bernie Glow's high F. (At 3:00 A.M., towards the end of a lip-withering recording session. Bernie's infallible accuracy and power nearly lifted the roof off at Columbia's vaulted studios.)

DIMITRI MITROPOULOS, musical director of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, needs no introduction, either as one of the world's greatest conductors or as a champion of contemporary music. His keen interest in the Schuller Symphony and his enthusiastic support of the aims of the Society persuaded him to participate in this unusual recording.

GUNTHER SCHULLER, first horn with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, is self-taught in composition. Among his public appearances, he has been heard as soloist in his own concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony, Eugene Goossens conducting. The present work developed from this appearance, having been written at the suggestion of Ernest Glover, director of the brass ensemble of the Cincinnati Conservatory, and conducted by him. Schuller has also performed frequently with jazz groups, including the now famous Miles Davis nine-piece recording group.

JOHN LEWIS, musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, is responsible for the commissioning of the Johnson and Giuffre works. His first major work was "Toccata For Trumpet And Orchestra," introduced at a 1947 Carnegie Hall conceit by Dizzy Gillespie, with whose band John first became known as a pianist and arranger.

J.J. JOHNSON has won more jazz polls as the outstanding trombonist of recent years than the New York Yankees have won pennants. He is also an exceptional arranger, most of whose work has been for small combinations. After many years as a featured member of both big bands and small groups, J J. organized an extraordinary quintet with another fine trombonist, Kai Winding, and since 1956, has been leading his own unit. "Poem For Brass" is his first large-scale work.

JIMMY GIUFFRE is the only one of the composers in this album to have studied composition extensively; he is, of course, much better known to the jazz public as a saxophonist and especially as a clarinetist. He is one of the musicians associated with the development of a rather unique style of modern jazz on the West Coast, and his new trio is considered to be the brightest and most individual new group to have emerged from this school.”


“As recently as ten years ago, this album could not have been produced, either in terms of performance or in terms of the marketability of its contents.

But so rapid has been the progressive intermingling of influences in the jazz and non jazz fields that there exists now a nucleus of musicians—albeit still limited in number—who can combine the ability to read "far out" twelve-tone scores with that prime requisite, the life-force of jazz? improvisation. (This should not be confused with the ubiquitous manifestation known as "commercial music" which, while it demands of the musician the ability to read and even occasionally challenges him to improvise, does so on a cliche level that suppresses creative imagination by the stereotyped mass-appeal patterns that it explicitly sets out to achieve.)

Music such as recorded here, of course, will once more bring up the often-raised questions. But is this still jazz, and is this intermarriage of two separate kinds of music valid?

In the short space available here, it is perhaps not possible to discuss conclusively such a thorny question— if this be possible at all—mainly because people in general, and jazz aficionados in particular, seem to have an irrepressible urge to pigeonhole their favorites into neat little category packages. And thus such and such is jazz, such and such is not. (We all know the purist to whom anything after 1925 is no longer jazz, or the latter-day jazz protagonist who thinks anything left of center—center at present being Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, et al—also outside the realm of jazz.) It just so happens, however, that creative musicians since the beginning of music—not to speak only of jazz—have never concerned themselves too much about what their product would be called or whether it would fit certain established categories.

The truly creative artist has always—to the extent of his talents and artistic sincerity—followed the demands of his creative personality, and it has been the job of the historian and theoretician to explain anil categorize artistic events after they occurred. (To cite only one very simple but pertinent example, the music now called "jazz" was played for years before it was known as such; arguments as to when it was first called jazz and why are still in full swing.)

As a matter of fact, the entire history of the arts was, and still is, precipitated by precisely those glorious moments in which the innovator of genius defies the established patterns and rules, thereby opening up new vistas for him and others to develop until the next big breakthrough occurs. The music lover of all periods, and also the record buyer of today, has a long history of resistance to these innovations of the great masters of past and present; and this is his right and privilege. We hope, however, that he will not find it necessary to exercise this right in regard to this album.

At any rate, perhaps this is jazz or perhaps it is not. Perhaps it is a new kind of music not yet named, which became possible only in America where, concurrent with a rapidly growing musical maturing, a brand new musico-cultural manifestation came into being, which has by now spread to all comers of the earth. Perhaps right now Japanese musicians, for instance, are working on a synthesis of jazz and their own ancient musical traditions. For who knows what the influence of jazz on other cultures as well as our own will produce in years to come? Speaking for myself, I can only say that the possibilities seem to me both exciting and limitless, and it seems irrelevant to worry about whether this will be jazz or not. It does seem relevant to worry about whether it is musically valid and meaningful within the time and society that produce it.

On this basic premise I will therefore not categorize and typecast the six works on this record. In view of the newness of much of the music, this would seem premature, and might in the process renourish prejudices which could limit the listener's enjoyment. Instead, I should like to give the listener the all-too-rare opportunity of uninhibitedly roaming over the wide range of personalities and concepts displayed here. For it was one of the marks of success of this Brandeis concert that the six works commissioned by the University not only were of high quality but as different in their immediate concepts as is possible to envision, while yet all — in a general way — subscribing to the same point of view. I will therefore limit myself to a few remarks about the works, remarks of an essentially non-categorical nature, that will aid the listener in appreciating some of the more salient moments on this record, both in terms of playing and writing.

"All About Rosie" by George Russell, is based — to quote the composer—"on a motif taken from an Alabama Negro children's song-game entitled 'Rosie, Little Rosie.'" The work is in three movements. In the first, a fast pace is set by the trumpet. Alternating between sections in 2/2 and 3/2 meter, the composer builds a gradually mounting tension through excellent manipulation of sequences and repetitions, culminating in a sudden climactic ending.

The second movement changes the mood; it is slow and has a distinct blues feeling. Notice how the composer at first effectively avoids establishing a specific tonality. Only gradually do the several lines in the flute, bassoon, tenor, etc., coalesce into a definite tonal picture, a process quite indigenous to George Russell's own particular modal concept, which effectively encompasses everything from pure diatonic writing to extreme chromaticism. Especially striking in this movement is the guitar writing, superbly played by Barry Galbraith. Again a climax is built with the two trumpets in unison over a rich ensemble. There is a sudden relaxation, and on a short questioning note the movement ends much as it began.

In the third section, the fast relentless pace of the opening is resumed, with the element of improvisation added. Outstanding in this respect is Bill Evans' remarkable piano solo. The ideas are imaginative and well related, but — more than that — Bill's strong, muscular, blues-based playing here fits dramatically into the composition as a whole. Other solos (La Porta, Farmer, Charles, McKusick), and a recapitulation of the opening statement, lead to a brilliant ending.

"Suspensions" is another one of Jimmy Giuffre's attempts to compose and notate, as exactly as our inadequate musical notation will permit, music that represents his particular viewpoint on the jazz and blues feeling. In this respect, the present work is an extension of the kind of thing Giuffre has been doing for some years with his own small groups. In "Suspensions," he has also once more used percussion, not as a rhythmic foundation and backdrop, but as an integral melodic voice within his contrapuntal structure. Giuffre also attempted to write for the players in an individual manner "with which they can express themselves as they would in a solo"—to quote Giuffre from his own notes for the Brandeis concert—which partially explains why there is no improvisation in this work.

A dark and ominous sounding statement in the bass instruments opens Mingus' "Revelations" and sets its initial mood. This is sustained for some time and is only slightly relieved by a chain of solo passages for the French horn (Buffington), trumpet (Mucci), and trombone (Knepper), which in their turn lead to a recapitulation of the opening. The ominous mood continues, abetted by hissing sounds from gourds, jangling tambourines, and ominous rumblings on the timpani (all played by Ted Sommer) that culminate eventually in Mingus' own inimitable appeal to the Lord. An "old church-style" piano solo in 3/4 sets a momentarily happier mood, but this soon capitulates to a more romantic, almost yearning atmosphere, featuring a remarkable and very difficult passage for French horn and bass in unison, played by Buffington and Zimmerman, incidentally Mingus' bass teacher.

With Art Farmer in the lead, the more energetic vein is reestablished which, in turn, gives way to two unusual measures in which, mixed with the moaning flute and tinkling harp and piano embroidery, you will hear the wheezing and rattling of instruments being blown through without producing pitches or tones (a device to the best of my knowledge first used by Igor Markevitch in his work "Icare").

The next section, back in 4/4 time, is one of Mingus' remarkable extended-form improvisations, where two continuously alternating chords form the sole harmonic basis. This "preaching" session — as Mingus thought of it —  begins with the first word from Brother Farmer who is answered by La Porta and later Knepper. As the tension and "shouting" mounts, all the remaining instruments join in response, like a congregation. At a point where drummer Ted Sommer enters the fray with all available instruments, and where the paroxysm threatens to become virtually unbearable, Mingus relaxes the tension and with two quieter improvised chords leads us back to the very opening of the work. But Mingus has not yet played all his cards; he leaves us with an astonishing ending, once more achieved with improvisatory means. No words of mine would be able to give a just idea of this extraordinary and beautiful fade away ending. Just listen to it!

As for my own work, "Transformation," I thought of the piece as a kind of musical reflection (in general terms) of the issue all these compositions bring into focus and which these notes aim to clarify: namely, the continuing process of amalgamation of jazz and contemporary "classical" music. The opening section is indistinguishable from any of my other non jazz compositions. It makes free use of the "passacaglia" idea, in this instance a constantly reiterated though changing line of single held notes (horn, clarinet, bass, clarinet, flute, etc.). Ever so gradually, however, against this background, tiny embryonic fragments of jazz material are introduced. These fragments grow in size and frequency until they predominate and the music has transformed itself into jazz. At a point where the original passacaglia idea (horizontal form) has been condensed into a single chord (its vertical form), the instrumental background suddenly breaks off and the vibes, piano and rhythm begin an improvised section. Notice here how beautifully pianist Bill Evans manages the transition from my written background for the vibe improvisation to his own improvised solo. Most listeners will probably be unable to tell where one ends and the other begins. (This, incidentally, is one of the central problems in jazz today: the integration of improvisation into increasingly complex compositional contexts.)

As the piano improvisation runs its course, a riff is introduced in the wind instruments, at first barely audible as if from far away. As the riff gains momentum and power, a kind of stretto develops, opposing the wind instruments against the others. At the same time, the rhythmic structure is broken up, and in rapidly alternating juxtaposition of jazz and classical rhythms, the composition reaches a climactic ending.

Quite aside from the individual merits or qualities of the six works here displayed, I think this recording predicts, above all, an exciting future in music — not jazz necessarily, but music. When a musician like Bill Evans, for instance — and I could name any one of the others too—can produce an extraordinary strong solo such as in Russell's work, then change character to suit the entirely different demands of my composition, and then turn around and deliver a flawless rendition of Milton Babbitt's exacting piano part, then in all probability, along with developments in the mainstream of jazz, we can look forward with assurance to a greatly enriched and exciting musical future.”


“The middle fifties was a grand time to be Director of Popular Albums for the company that had created the long-playing microgroove record in 1948. The new medium had caught on commercially-caught fire, in fact — but there was still a spirit of exploration in which hardly anything seemed too daring to try. Best of all, the catalog was doing incredibly well at the cash register, so I could risk new ideas without undue panic in the counting-house. (Hysteria, maybe, but not total panic.)

Thanks to my wife, concert violinist Anahid Ajemian, my interest in contemporary classical music had broadened from Stravinsky to Schoenberg to John Cage and beyond. So it was with an open mind that I listened to my friend and Upper West Side neighbor, Gunther Schuller, who had the eminently reasonable but patently impractical idea of recording an album which has since come to be recognized as the birth of "Third Stream" — Gunther's descriptive imagery for music which synthesizes elements of classical music (first stream) and jazz (second stream).

Music For Brass was an album which might never have been recorded if the music had not already been rehearsed for a Jazz and Classical Music Society concert which never took place. Thus the first favorable tip of the scales came when I realized that a considerable amount of studio time (and musicians' overtime) would be saved because the musicians' ears, minds and "chops" were already into the score. Dimitri Mitropoulos, music director of the Philharmonic, was prepared to conduct Gunther's work; his stellar reputation and the fact that he was a contract artist at Columbia helped cushion what I anticipated might be some grumbling on the bean-counting front. When Gunther asked if I thought that Miles Davis — whom I had signed to a contract although I could not release his work until early 1957 — might like to participate as a soloist in the Lewis and Johnson pieces, my conviction that I should make this recording was sealed, even though Miles's enthusiastic assent also meant delaying the release of the album.

The Schuller "Symphony" was recorded on the first session. Miles came and listened, entranced, in a corner of the control room. He couldn't keep his eyes off Mitropoulos. "Hey, George," he whispered — hoarsely, of course — "ask him if I could play with his band some time." (Because he had heard Anahid's performance of the Kurt Weill violin concerto with Mitropoulos conducting, Miles had convinced himself that I had influence in that department.)

During a break, I introduced him to Mitropoulos, adding that Miles would be a soloist in the next two works in the album, and perhaps one day... ? Maestro nodded sagely and hummed an "Ahhhhh, perhaps." Miles beamed. (Yes, he used to beam now and then.) Although I mentioned Miles to Mitropoulos when I gave him a copy of the album a few months later, nothing came of it. (Miles never said another word about it.)

The Music For Brass LP was Gunther's debut, as a composer on one side and as a conductor on the other.

("The industry's first two-for-the-price-of-one offer which refers to a person instead of a free second album," I told him.) "Third Stream" became a familiar term as Gunther used the tributary-river analogy to answer questions about this unique album.

Gunther became a tireless organizer of concerts which brought jazz and classical music and musicians together. The 1957 Brandeis University Jazz Festival of the Arts included six new compositions for a basic instrumentation — a reprise on a smaller scale of the framework of the Music For Brass repertoire. We originally planned to record the music "live," but rehearsals at Brandeis established that the hall was acoustically unsuitable, so we made the recordings soon after at "The Church"—the 30th Street studio which had once been an actual Greek Orthodox church.

In his 1996 essay, Gunther describes the burgeoning impact of "Third Stream," which soon lost its quotation marks. It was the founding premise of Orchestra U.S.A., organized by John Lewis in the early sixties with Gunther and himself as conductors and myself as manager. Gunther went on to new successes as a composer, as a conductor (especially after his notable New York series, "Twentieth Century Innovations") and as president of the New England Conservatory of Music, before he "retired" to an extraordinarily full life of composing, conducting and organizing concerts all over the world. Seemingly endless honors, prizes and awards have followed, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

With the passing years, it's been said that one doesn't hear much about Third Stream any more. There is good reason for this; it has been absorbed into the mainstream. Abetting this development has been the Third Stream Music department of the New England Conservatory, which Gunther founded in 1976 and which continues under its original director, Ran Blake.

As great an influence as the first Third Stream recordings were on contemporary music, jazz and non-jazz, possibly their greatest effect was the ignition of the skyrocket which shot Miles Davis to lasting international stardom. Without Music For Brass, I might never have dared to even think of creating the watershed Miles Ahead album with a 19-piece orchestra. (Without it, as more than one observer noted at the time. Miles would have continued "slogging along" making quintet and sextet recordings.) When I told Miles that I had decided that his second Columbia album must be with a large orchestra — "something like 'Music for Brass"' — I also told him there were only two arranger-conductors he should consider Gunther, who had played French horn in Miles' ground-breaking Nonet in 1950, or Gil Evans, whom I remembered from my 1940s sessions with the Claude Thornhill orchestra (and, more recently, Johnny Mathis).

As I expected, Miles chose Gil, in whose apartment the Nonet was bom and rehearsed. I still believe it was the right answer for Miles. But I have also stopped joking about "Hey, Gunther, no Nobel yet?"”

May, 1996


“How things have changed! Dare I say advanced and improved? When these eight compositions were recorded and first performed about 40 years ago, the average record listener and buyer, and even most critics, considered them (at worst) "incomprehensible," "anti-jazz," even "anti-music," "absurdly avant-garde," "beyond the pale," or (at best) "controversial," "difficult," "abstract," "unrewarding."

Ranging from Babbitt's extraordinarily provocative combinatorial serialism ['Unfortunately, Babbitt's "All Set" is not on this CD. Playing time restrictions forced us to omit it, along with Harold Shapero's "On Green Mountain."] to Giuffre's folksy Polyphonic modal work, these pieces were viewed by most observers as either falling between the proverbial stools of classical and jazz concepts, or simply so far outside any tradition as to be not even worth discussing. That these [pioneering efforts] have long since become "celebrated" and absorbed into a generally eclectic, broad-gauged mainstream, where modern jazz and classical concepts often meet on an equal footing, proves once again that, as so often in the whole history of music (and the arts in general), what was once considered inscrutable and obscure and thus apt to be rejected, not too long afterwards becomes perfectly accessible and accepted, even routine.

A fair amount of controversy did, of course, swirl around this kind of music back in the 1950s and early 1960s, primarily in the professional magazines and journals. Great fears were expressed on both sides of the stylistic fence that, in coming together, the two musics would seriously damage each other. Jazz critics were worried that the "spontaneity" of jazz would be severely afflicted with alleged "stiffness," "straightness," "abstractness" — what was deemed the "academicism" — of modern "classical" music. Conversely, critics on the "classical" side either considered these "experiments" as simplistic and naive, or were concerned that the sacred precincts of modern music would be contaminated by the populist "vulgarities" and/or "simple-mindedness" of jazz.

Caught between being rejected or ignored, this kind of new music — mixing improvisational techniques and concepts with straight composition, blending atonality with tonalities, bringing classical musicians together with jazz players — found only a relatively small receptive audience. Today, these "experiments" are seen as important pioneering efforts which opened up all kinds of musical doors, and which long since have become the basis for all means of new stylistic fusions and amalgamations.

Looking back to those heady, exciting days 40 years ago, it is also fascinating to observe how the technical and stylistic horizons of musicians have broadened and deepened in the intervening years. While the various kinds of musical alchemies and stylistic fusions presented here could be managed 40 years ago only by a small handful of musicians, it is commonplace today to find many performers who will readily deal with any kind of music: improvised or written, tonal or non-tonal, "classical" or jazz. Webern, Varese and Stravinsky co-exist and co-mingle happily with Parker, Mingus and Coleman.

The world of music in the 1950s was still for the most part divided among sharply defined lines of musicians who, on the jazz side, could not (or preferred not to) read music — and then only of the simplest and most jazz-conventional kind — and also could not improvise on anything but traditional tonal "changes;" while on the "classical" side musicians could not improvise, could not swing, could barely capture the unique rhythmic inflections and expanded sonorities of jazz.

Today those erstwhile separate worlds have come together, have cross-fertilized, in variously overlapping ways, and learned much from each other. A rare pioneer on the frontiers of jazz, such as Scott LaFaro, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, who in those days had both the "chops" and the ears to deal with these new musical fusions, has been replaced by a whole generation of younger performing and creative talents, for whom those old stylistic and conceptual boundaries have long since disappeared.

One should also pay tribute to the courage and adventurous spirit of Columbia Records and its then-young producer George Avakian in having the wisdom, against all commercial, economic odds, to initiate these recordings, especially at a time when rock and roll was radically changing the face of "popular" music and when questions as to where music — classical as well as jazz — was heading were hardly answerable but nevertheless hotly debated.

In retrospect, it is fascinating to see how well this music has survived the years, how undated and timeless it still sounds. Known collectively as "Third Stream," i.e. the offspring of the marriage of two mainstreams — classical and jazz — it is great to see how well these creative efforts have stood the test of time.

It is also a joy to hear how remarkably well this music was played on the original recordings, when, as mentioned above, such repertory was considered "very difficult" (to say the least), on the outer edge of possibilities; and how beautifully sonically it was recorded (let us remember monaurally, without the enhancing aura of stereo) in that great, wonderful, now long-gone 30th Street studio.

It seems to me that retroactive congratulations are in order all around.”

May, 1996

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