Third Stream is a synthesis of jazz and classical music. The term was coined in 1957 by composer Gunther Schuller in a lecture at Brandeis University. Improvisation is generally seen as a vital component of third stream.
In 1961, Schuller defined third stream as "a new genre of music located about halfway between jazz and classical music". He insisted that "by definition there is no such thing as 'third stream jazz'". He noted that while critics on both sides of third stream objected to tainting their favorite music with the other, more strenuous objections were typically made by jazz musicians who felt such efforts were "an assault on their traditions". He wrote that "by designating the music as a 'separate, third stream', the other two mainstreams could go about their way unaffected by the attempts at fusion". Because third stream draws on classical as much as jazz, it is usually required that composers and performers be proficient in both genres.
Critics have argued that third stream—by drawing on two very different styles—dilutes the power of each in combining them. Others reject such notions and consider third stream an interesting musical development. In 1981, Schuller offered a list of "What Third Stream Is Not":
Schuller led a group of musicians in recording the albums Music for Brass (1957) and Modern Jazz Concert (1958), later collected under one album, The Birth of the Third Stream. The first contained compositions by Schuller, J.J. Johnson, John Lewis, amd Jimmy Giuffre. The second album combined jazz and classical musicians with compositions by Schuller, Giuffre, George Russell, Charles Mingus, Harold Shapero, and Milton Babbitt. This music was performed for the first time at the Brandeis Festival of the Arts in 1957 and inspired Schuller's comment about "a new synthesis". Composers who were influenced by Schuller's comments include Eddie Sauter, William Russo, Andre Hodeir, Lalo Schifrin, Teo Macero, Gary McFarland, and Friedrich Gulda. Others influenced by third stream include Robert Prince, Ron Carter, Eddie Daniels, William Kanengiser, Jacques Loussier, Modern Jazz Quartet, James Newton, Ralph Towner, Turtle Island Quartet, and Mary Lou Williams.
Works that fall under the heading of third stream include Focus, a suite for saxophone and strings by Eddie Sauter; Transformation by Schuller, An Image of Man by William Russo, Piece for Clarinet and String Orchestra by Giuffre, Poem for Brass by J.J. Johnson, All About Rosie by George Russell, Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra by Michael Gibbs, Symbiosis by Claus Ogerman, and Arbour Zena by Keith Jarrett.
Paul Whiteman employed string sections in his jazz bands in the 1920s, as did Artie Shaw in the 1940s. These musicians had written parts and supported the improvisers. More dramatic attempts to bridge jazz and classical were made by Charlie Parker in 1949 and in the 1950s by J. J. Johnson, John Lewis, and William Russo.
George Gershwin blended jazz and symphonic music in Rhapsody in Blue (1924). French composer Darius Milhaud used jazz-inspired elements, including a jazz fugue, in La création du monde. Igor Stravinsky drew from jazz for Ragtime, Piano-Rag-Music, and the Ebony Concerto composed for clarinetist Woody Herman and his orchestra in 1945. Other composers who used jazz include George Antheil, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Morton Gould, Paul Hindemith, Ernst Krenek, Bohuslav Martin?, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Grant Still, and Kurt Weill. Although few of these examples can be classified third stream, they demonstrate interest and appreciation for jazz among classical composers.
Reginald Foresythe was among the first musicians to combine the two genres, beginning in the 1930s. He called his style "The New Music". Critics praised "Garden of Weed" "Serenade for a Wealthy Widow" and the Bach-influenced "Dodging a Divorcee", but the British public was baffled. Foresythe's music found a warmer reception in America, resulting in collaborations with Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Earl Hines. Artie Shaw recorded "Interlude in B-flat" in 1935 with the unusual ensemble of a string quartet, a jazz rhythm section, and Shaw on clarinet and saxophone. Although not third stream in conception, pianist Art Tatum drew on classical technique and recorded jazz versions of short pieces by European composers Antonín Dvo?ák, Jules Massenet, and Anton Rubinstein.
A fusion of jazz with contemporary classical music came from the pen of Pete Rugolo, chief architect of the Stan Kenton Progressive Jazz Orchestra from 1947 to 1948 and the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra of 1950 and 1951. A student of Milhaud, Rugolo studied the scores of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky. The exploratory works of Robert Graettinger for Kenton from 1947 to 1952 combine contemporary classical techniques. His use of colorful graphs and charts for big band took his music into a harmonic and rhythmic realm unknown in jazz. Duke Ellington's music has been compared with that of classical composers Debussy, Ravel, and Frederick Delius in impressionistic work such as "Mood Indigo", "Dusk", and "Reflections in D", as well as in more extended composed works such as "Creole Rhapsody", "Reminiscing in Tempo", and "The Tattooed Bride". These tendencies were shared by his collaborator, composer Billy Strayhorn. Ukrainian pianist Nikolai Kapustin writes fully notated music in a jazz idiom that fuses the Russian piano tradition with the virtuosic styles of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.
Composer Krzysztof Penderecki experimented with compositionally guided free jazz improvisation in his "Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra". Hans Werner Henze brought free jazz into his compositions in Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer.
Bartok's music--originally compounded of Debussyan and Straussian elements--rose to its greatest heights after he was able to fuse his early style with the idiomatic inflections of Eastern European folk music.