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Artist’s Choice: Matthew Shipp on Third Stream Piano

Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Mingus and others paved the way

Matthew Shipp
Charles Mingus

Third Stream was an inevitable movement in jazz. All music is synthesis, including jazz, but it seems like an even more conscious attempt to combine European practices with Afro-American music had to occur sooner or later, hence the Third Stream movement. Whatever one’s take on Third Stream, it generated a lot of interesting plots and subplots and put the information out there that allows a more natural combination of the idioms to occur with improvisers today.


Dennis Sandole Project

Michael Grossman, piano
A Sandole Trilogy (Cadence Jazz, 1995)

Dennis Sandole-a jazz guitarist, composer, theorist and teacher who taught John Coltrane, among others-never belonged to any school or movement. But he composed rigorous music, and this polytonal panharmonic solo piano piece has the ring of a 20th-century masterpiece.

“Chromatic Universe, Part 2”

George Russell and His Orchestra

Paul Bley, Bill Evans; piano
Jazz in the Space Age (Decca, 1960)

Composer George Russell was a cohort of Gunther Schuller, the composer and theorist credited with organizing the Third Stream movement, and the duo of Paul Bley and Bill Evans is a Third Stream piano dream.

“Variants on a Theme of John Lewis:

Variant 1″

Composed by Gunther Schuller

Bill Evans, piano
John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz
Abstractions (Atlantic, 1960)
John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music: Jazz Abstractions, regarded as a quintessential Third Stream album, primarily features music composed by Gunther Schuller, performed by players including Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Jim Hall, Scott LaFaro and Bill Evans. “Variant 1” is here because of the overall effect, in which the piano just adds color.

“Off Minor”

Ran Blake
Epistrophy (Soul Note, 1992)

Ran Blake is another pianist indelibly connected to Third Stream. He studied with Gunther Schuller and went on to become founding chair of the Third Stream department at New England Conservatory. Here is Blake interpreting his major influence-Monk-in a pointillistic way.


Jimmy Giuffre 3

Paul Bley, piano
Flight, Bremen 1961 (Hat Art, 1993)

I could not resist this one-a chamber-jazz take on a Benny Goodman theme song.


Ran Blake
Painted Rhythms: The Compleat Ran Blake, Volume I

(GM, 1987)

Wow! Listen to this consummate Third Stream pianist explore Ellington’s capacious canvas to create his own luscious soundscape.

“Praying With Eric”

Charles Mingus

Jaki Byard, piano
Town Hall Concert (Jazz Workshop, 1964)

Jaki Byard’s piano work on this cut is beyond category, but it does reflect the sort of synthesis Third Stream music was aiming for. The brilliance of it speaks for itself.


Paul Bley Trio

Bley, piano
Closer (ESP-Disk’, 1966)

Paul Bley is also beyond any category, but his use of space and intervals puts him into a Third Stream, hybrid type of headspace on this beautiful tone poem. JT

For the past two decades, pianist, composer and improviser Matthew Shipp has been an integral figure in jazz and new music. On Jan. 29, Thirsty Ear will release Matthew Shipp’s Greatest Hits, a compilation of tracks from his Blue Series for the label. Visit Shipp online

Originally Published