Crate Digging: Third Stream

Remember record stores? Remember the thrill of turning your friends on to new music by swapping vinyl and CDs? Yeah, we do too. That’s why we’re rebooting that tradition for the digital age with our “Crate Digging” podcast series, in which we’ll search through crates of our memories to bring you a handful of album recommendations on a given theme. It’s social media in the truest sense of the term: no algorithms, no computer-generated playlist. Just jazz fans sharing records with other jazz fans.

You can listen to the podcast version via the player below. Write-ups of individual albums and sample tracks follow. Welcome to the party! For this episode of Crate Digging, we have chosen some of our favorite third stream albums!

Modern Jazz Quartet, Django (Prestige, 1956)

My first pick predates Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream manifesto but somehow even finds the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) anticipating its spirit with its creative blend of delicate percussive sonorities and innovations in jazz forms. Django‘s tracklist was assembled from a number of sessions at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio from 1953 to 1955 and even opens with their iconic signature title song, written by pianist and MJQ musical director John Lewis in memory of the great Django Reinhardt. – Matt Micucci


Gunther Schuller, Jumpin’ in the Future (GM, 1988)

For my first pick, I went with the figurehead of Third Stream, Gunther Schuller and selected a compilation from 1988 called Jumpin’ in the Future, which collects songs written by him roughly from 1947 into the mid-1960s. Schuller was a horn player and did some exceptional writing for brass, and this is signature Schuller stuff, also featuring him with tuba player Howard Johnson, who passed away in January 2021, and his orchestra, Orange Then Blue. – Brian Zimmerman


Jacques Loussier, Play Bach N.1 (Decca, 1959)

This entry defies Gunther Schuller’s rule of Third Stream not being classical music played by jazz players but also represents this movement’s more accessible and beautiful blend of classical and jazz. French pianist Jacques Loussier’s jazz interpretations of famous classical works were hugely successful and his series of takes on works by Johann Sebastian Bach particularly renowned – so much so that his trio from the period was known as “Le Trio Play Bach.” – Matt Micucci


Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse!, 1963)

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the most acclaimed Charles Mingus albums ever and originally at least partly written to be a ballet. It is one continuous composition and like Third Stream, it does blend jazz and classical but also integrates elements of African music and Spanish themes. It’s narrative, visual and kinetic and for me, its big achievement is that with it, Mingus made a statement that this music had artistic merit in and of itself, and not really in relation to any form of music or any other art form. – Brian Zimmerman


André Hodeir, Jazz et Jazz (Fontana, 1959)

France had one of the most noteworthy Third Stream scenes in Europe at the peak of its popularity and among its most noteworthy exponents was multi-instrumentalist André Hodeir who brought his classical Conservatoire de Paris background to jazz and other genres throughout his career. His 1963 album Jazz et Jazz is one of his most acclaimed and inspired works, where we find cantatas, flautandos and other open stylistic references to classical music both by style and by title. – Matt Micucci


Various Artists, The Birth of Third Stream (Columbia, 1996)

My next album is another compilation that is a must-have for any collector of Third Stream albums. The Birth of Third Stream issued in 1996 collects recordings from the height of the Third Stream era, many of which are out of print now. These include tracks from the famous 1957 Modern Jazz Concert, overseen by Gunther Schuller and George Russell among others, that people describe as the origin of Third Stream, and some of the early Third Stream work of composer J.J. Johnson, who a lot of people know as a bebopper but who was also a brilliant composer in the classical vein. – Brian Zimmerman


Eric Dolphy, Out There (New Jazz, 1961)

Eric Dolphy’s Out There is perhaps as much a free jazz album as it is a Third Stream album. Then again, it may be something entirely idiosyncratic, pictorial, otherworldly and as surreal as a painting by Salvador Dalí. This was a historic recording date also featuring Ron Carter on cello, George Duvivier on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Sadly, it was one of the few recordings Dolphy put out as a leader, as his career was tragically cut short by his passing at age 36 three years later. – Matt Micucci


John Lewis, Jazz Abstractions (Atlantic, 1961)

Jazz Abstractions by John Lewis is an essential addition to anyone’s collection of Third Stream album not only because it might be the most accessible Third Stream album for the pure jazz aficionados but also because of the sheer star power on this recording, featuring some of the brightest minds of jazz from the era, including Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Scott LaFaro and many more, in addition to Lewis himself. Not only does the record manage to retain all of their idiosyncratic sounds but Lewis, via his arrangements and compositions, manages to weave their many unique visions into something whole, new and original. – Brian Zimmerman


Franco Ambrosetti, Music for Symphony and Jazz Band (Enja, 1991)

The spirit of Third Stream and its innovation continued to live strong in the works of many artists in the decades following its peak era, including via the works of such artists as Franco Ambrosetti. The Swiss flugelhornist/composer, among the best jazz artists to have ever come out of Switzerland, showcases one of the finest examples of orchestral classical-meets-jazz music of its time, performed by the NDR Radio Orchestra Hannover. – Matt Micucci


Joe Lovano, Rush Hour (Blue Note, 1994)

Joe Lovano’s 1994 album Rush Hour features the saxophonist in the presence of an orchestra conducted and arranged by Gunther Schuller. The program itself is a mix of standards and originals by Schuller and with the curation of those tracks, Lovano certainly pays tribute to the Third Stream icons who paved the way. In addition, I find the music evokes a sense of place. evokes a scene and establishes a sense of drama, like classical music that is written for the stage or for ballet, often does. Brian Zimmerman


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