Post image for The Third Stream: Does it Deserve the Respect Given to its Parent Genres?

The Third Stream: Does it Deserve the Respect Given to its Parent Genres?

by Michael Lyles on April 28, 2015

Jazz has always built its foundation on allowing its performers to basically do whatever they want. On the opposite end of the spectrum, classical music is meant to be played exactly as written, note for note. The birthplace and eras associated with each type of music tells us as much: classical music came from a time where kings and queens ruled, where falling in line and doing as you are told was expected of you. Jazz comes from the rough streets of early 1900’s America, a place where freedom was held dear and the notion of being ruled over was frowned upon. It is easy to see why young Americans took to the easy-going, free-natured essence of jazz. While many musicians flocked to this new, free style of playing, many of them still grew up with classical training. So it is no surprise that these jazz artists would attempt to update some of the classics with jazz elements.

The Jacques Loussier Trio is one such Third Stream group known for doing jazz renditions of European classics. Listening to the Trio’s version of Bach’s ‘Toccata & Fugue in D minor’ is a very interesting experience. The Trio’s use of ground bass is a  clever nod to the similarities of jazz music and the Baroque period. Their version is performed flawlessly; the rhythm and feeling of the piece maintain the original’s intensity while making it clear that this rendition has something new to stay. Furious note playing transitions into smooth, jazz chord transitions without so much as a blink of the eye. Jazz and Baroque blend together with such ease by the Trio that one would believe this was how it was always played. There is no mistaking where the members of the Jacques Loussier Trio got their roots from. The attention to detail is so immaculate, one would have a strenuous time making an argument against the Jacques Loussier Trio’s incorporation of jazz into one of Bach’s greatest creations.

One might say that the true birth of the third stream came in 1924, when George Gershwin blended jazz with symphonic music in his ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ Although it is popular with some, purists claim adding jazz to a classical piece taints the original and vice versa. Pulitzer prize winning composer, Gunther Schuller claims he was attacked on both sides of the argument—i.e., by the classical musicians who looked down on jazz, and by the jazz musicians who worried that classical music would stultify jazz. While the debate may remain unsettled, Schuller knows that his vision is important for all future fusions of genres and hopes to see more classical musicians embrace this way of thinking. He is proud to see his legacy have such a profound impact, especially at places such as the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory in Nepal, where Third Stream has been added to the curriculum. While both genres are honored and respected as they exist now, there is room for growth in the ‘Third Stream’ genre.

Adding an improvisation over a classic in no way means you are defacing the original. If someone is willing to take the time to expand upon an existing creation, it is because the existing creation is part of what inspired that person to get where he/she is musically. Music is at its best when boundaries are dropped, and artists explore sounds and combinations of genres that have never been heard before.





{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Zac Fischman April 30, 2015 at 11:50 pm

I like the way this article is laid out. It touches on a few different viewpoints and it offers some good perspective. It is cool to think that the third stream, which tried to take a universal stance on music at the time is now taught in Nepal, in essence achieving universality. I also like your point that music is best when artists are free to experiment. When more people that play “out of the box” it inspires music as a whole to open it’s mind a little and the entire culture progresses. Good read.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: