In 1956 Herbie Nichols wrote, “Sometimes I burst into laughter when I think of what the future jazzists will be able to accomplish,” citing Hector Villa-Lobos, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Dimitri Shostakovich, Walter Piston and Béla Bartók as his own inspirations. I first read the liner notes to The Prophetic Herbie Nichols as a teenager, and I wondered then if I might be able to participate in this “future.”
Nichols must have smiled the very next year when Gunther Schuller, Milton Babbitt, Harold Shapero, George Russell, Charles Mingus and Jimmy Giuffre recorded Modern Jazz Concert, the first full-fledged combination of European high-modernism and American jazz. The name “Third Stream” was coined by Schuller to describe this new music. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, John Lewis and the MJQ, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans and other great jazz musicians participated on canonical Third Stream recordings.