Entertainment » Music

NEC Concert Offers the ’Rebirth of the Third Stream’

by Kay Bourne
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 28, 2012

While lecturing at Brandeis University in 1957, maverick American musician Gunther Schuller coined the phrase "Third Stream" to describe music that combines classical and jazz techniques. On that occasion, George Russell's "All About Rosie" was performed in what has come to be called "Birth of the Third Stream" concert.

The son of a New York Philharmonic violinist, Schuller, a high school dropout, was largely self-taught as a musician. By the age of 15 he was an accomplished horn player and flutist playing professionally with such important institutions as the American Ballet Theatre, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. By the mid-1950s, he was also an accomplished jazz musician in both performances and recordings, including one where he played French horn with Miles Davis.

During this period, it was considered eccentric for musicians to move between these two musical genres. The unwritten rule was that classical players were trained at conservatories where jazz was pretty much forbidden as an expressive outlet for students.

But by the 1960s, Schuller, appointed president of the New England Conservatory of Music, integrated jazz into the institution's curriculum. Among his innovations was creating the Third Stream department and naming unorthodox pianist Ran Blake to head it.

"There were no classes in Third Stream as such," says Hankus Netsky, currently an instructor in jazz and improvisation at NEC.

Netsky, however, acknowledges the impact of bringing this commingling of musical styles to the forefront at a conservatory of music.

"It was a wedge" that gave jazz respect as art, he says. Prior to that "jazz and classical had been compartmentalized. Jazz was seen as part of the commercial world."

The Third Stream department no longer exists at New England Conservatory, but it has served its purpose to elevate jazz in the minds of critics, musical scholars and the general public. NEC became the first American conservatory to offer a jazz degree.

This Thursday, Nov. 29, NEC presents "Rebirth of the Third Stream," a tribute concert to the genre that Gunther Schuller brought to the conservatory some 40 years ago.

Free and open to the public, the event features the NEC Jazz Orchestra led by Jazz Studies department chair Ken Schaphorst, who has devised a program that walks the audience through the evolution of music that fits the Third Stream definition. Some of its characteristics are jazz compositions orchestrated with the complexity of a classical symphony; classical works that have been "recomposed" by jazz musicians; and original works by classical and jazz composers that blend genres.

MacArthur genius grant awardee Ran Blake joins the orchestra for his piece "Horace is Blue" (the title refers to Horace Silver).

Also on the program, among others, are Duke Ellington’s "A Tone Parallel to Harlem," Tchaikovsky’s "Arab Dance" (arranged by Gil Evans), and the seminal piece in Third Stream history George Russell’s "All About Rosie."

Rebirth of the Third Stream, a tribute concert, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 at Jordan Hall, corner of Huntington Ave. and St. Botolph Street. Free and open to the public, for more info phone 617-585-1260 or go on-line to www.necmusic.edu.


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