Mirage: Avant-Garde and Third-Stream Jazz
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80216     Release Date: 1977-01-01
There is a view, shared by many jazz historians and writers, that the history of jazz parallels in its broad outlines that of Western classical music—only on a much briefer time scale: what took nearly =nine centuries in European music is concentrated into a mere six decades in jazz. According to this view, the separate lines of classical music and jazz, veering steadily toward each other from divergent starting points, eventually converge and become one. While this final point has perhaps not yet been reached, the rapprochement between classical music and jazz and the steady catching up of jazz techniques and concepts with those of the Western avantgarde has brought the two idioms so close that at times they are barely distinguishable from each other.

One could also describe this process of acculturation as the Europeanization of jazz. For while the origins of jazz are certainly traceable to African antecedents, there can be little doubt—although the jazz fraternity doesn’t like to admit it— that jazz has already assimilated and transformed countless European musical elements in its brief history. Indeed, this is a process, which began with the very beginnings of jazz and ragtime, when these styles were, in them selves, a simple amalgam of African elements with American elements imported from Europe. It is a process which has never ceased, and which reached its apex in the postwar period—extending into the early sixties— in a two-pronged stretching of the confines of jazz: one direction can properly be called the early avant-garde of the late forties and fifties, while the other is the Third Stream movement which began in the late fifties. These two areas are the subject and content of this record.

While many jazz historians have attempted to characterize the development of jazz in purely racial terms, with white musicians and white musical influences always playing the role of the (alleged) corrupters of the “pure” black musical strains, the facts belie such simplistic notions. True, the major innovators of jazz have certainly always been black, and the commercial initiatives and exploitation of jazz have usually come from the white side. Still, it cannot be said that all white or European influences in jazz have been a priori negative and corruptive, unless one simply wants to maintain absolute racial purity and hold that any multi-ethnic, multi-stylistic fusion is in itself nonproductive.

In any case whatever anyone may theorize or wish either to prevent or to generate tends to be academic, since the course of the music is not normally determined in the academies or by establishment institutions; rather, the music develops at a grassroots level, is subject to all manner of subtle sociological, economic, and even political pressures, and is often influenced by fads and fashions, by accidents of timing and fate, and by population shifts and other socio-economic factors. In other words, these cross-fertilizations do occur in free and unpredictable patterns, whether anyone approves of them or not.

Beyond the question of their socio-philosophical validity is the further question of the musical integrity of such cultural cross influences. Here again, the question is mostly irrelevant—as, ultimately, are all questions of artistic pedigree: mongrels are not inherently any the less successful or attractive than a pure breed. Indeed, had cultural traditions never mixed, the last nine hundred years of Western European musical development could never have occurred, because no significant musical innovation has ever been achieved which did not borrow from geographically and stylistically neighboring cultural traditions. Thus, the secular ballads of the troubadours became an essential structural element of the sacred motets of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century ars nova; and the folk and dance music of the last five centuries has at various times and in various ways profoundly affected the “art music” of composers from Bach and Mozart to Bartók and Stravinsky.

What such cross-influences do is to expand the potential resources of the music. Thus, in jazz, most black musicians in the twenties, though they may be reluctant to admit it now, were eager to emulate the instrumental sophistication and technical control of the Paul Whiteman orchestra. Nor can there be much doubt that in the twenties Ellington was as much inspired and influenced by the advanced harmonic writing of Whiteman’s arrangers Ferde Grofé and Bill Challis as he was by the arranging techniques of Will Vodery or the orchestrations of Ravel (which Ellington is alleged to have listened to—a point never really proven and a “secret” which the Duke, who could be as enigmatic and elusive as anyone, carried with him to his grave). While on the subject of Whiteman, his use of violins — regarded by many as a nefarious and degenerative classical influence — was not at all a handicap to Grofé and Challis, but was rather an additional distinctive musical resource which they exploited eagerly and ingeniously. No other instrument then available in jazz could equal the sustaining ability of the violin, its ease and brilliance in the upper register, and finally’ its unique timbre. When Charlie Parker recorded with strings in the early fifties, or when Mingus consistently uses a cello or when Lawrence Brown of the Ellington orchestra emulated the sonority and elegance of movement of the cello on his trombone, these musicians were in their different ways discovering and creatively using resources not normally found in the jazz tradition.

The invasion of Carnegie Hall in 1913 by James Reese Europe with a super-orchestra of 140 filled with enormous numbers of violins and mandolins, playing classical overtures as well as “syncopated Negro music”; Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha; the “symphonic jazz” movement furthered by men like Dave Peyton, Doc Cook, Carrol Dickerson, Wilbur Sweatman, and, of course, Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin; the highly disciplined and carefully worked out and rehearsed performances of groups like Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers or Alphonse Trent’s orchestra in the twenties; Benny Goodman’s conquest of Carnegie Hall in 1938, twenty-five years after James Europe had played there, and Goodman’s collaboration with Josef Szigeti and Bela Bartók in the latter’s Contrasts; Igor Stravinsky’s ragtime pieces around the time of World War I and his Ebony Concerto composed for Woody Herman some thirty years later; the various nibblings at classical concepts by the likes of John Kirby, Art Tatum, and Artie Shaw; Eddie Sauter’s too-advanced (and therefore rarely or never performed) arrangements for Benny Goodman in the late thirties; the increasing fascination with instruments like the French horn, the oboe, and the bassoon, usually found only on the classical side of the tracks; the greater concern for extended forms not associated with the standard jazz forms of the 12-bar blues or the 32-bar song structure—all these and many more were stations in an ongoing development, a historical continuum which significantly and often positively affected the course of jazz.

The traffic was not only one-way, of course. Classical composers were fascinated by the new rhythms and sonorities of jazz too. From Charles Ives who was the first lonely voice to recognize the musical validity of ragtime, through European composers like Darius Milhaud, Maurice Ravel, Ernst Kr¡enek, Paul Hindemith, Bohuslav Martinu°, and Erwin Schulhoff, to Americans like John Alden Carpenter, Louis Gruenberg, Aaron Copland, and William Grant Still—all were captivated by the new fascinations of jazz, although in only a very few instances did they really understand and appreciate the true improvisatory nature of jazz. (This aspect of the cross-fertilization between jazz and classical music will be dealt with on a future New World disc which, will contain works by John Alden Carpenter, Henry F. B. Gilbert, Adolf Weiss, and John Powell.)

GUNTHER SCHULLER is a composer and conductor. From 1967 to 1977 he was president of the New England Conservatory of Music. Mr. Schuller has written extensively on jazz, and his book Early Jazz: Its Roots and Development (Oxford University Press, 1968) is considered a definitive history of the first three decades of jazz.

Various Artists

Mirage: Avant-Garde and Third-Stream Jazz

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Summer Sequence (Parts 1, 2, 3)
Ralph Burns
The Clothed Woman
Duke Ellington
Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach
Pete Rugolo
Charles Mingus
Egdon Heath
Bill Russo
Concerto for Billy the Kid
George Russell
Gunther Schuller
Piazza Navona
John Lewis
David Raksin, Johnny Mercer

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