Jazz in the Concert Hall
Written by Leonard Bernstein
Original CBS Television Network Broadcast Date: 11 March 1964
Now that’s about the last sound in the world you’d expect to hear in Philharmonic Hall, isn’t it? Sounds more like your next-door neighbor’s radio, or the Newport Jazz Festival. And yet, that’s a sound that’s been coming more and more often into our American concert halls, ever since American composers began trying, about forty years ago, to get some of the excitement and natural American feeling of jazz into their symphonic music.
Even so, in spite of these tries at combining jazz and symphonic writing, the two musics have somehow remained separate, like two streams that flow along side by side without ever touching or mixing—except every once in a while. But it’s those once-in-a-whiles that we’re interested in today: those pieces in which the jazz stream now and then does sneak over to the symphonic stream, and for a moment or two, flows along with it in happy harmony. And these days—at least, for the last five or fifty years, that is—there is a new movement in American music actually called “the third stream” which mixes the rivers of jazz with the other rivers that flow down from the high-brow far out mountain peaks of twelve-tone, or atonal music.
Now the leading navigator of this third stream—in fact the man who made up the phrase “third stream”—is a young man named Gunther Schuller. He is one of those total musicians, like Paul Hindemith whom we discussed on our last program, only he’s American. Mr. Schuller writes music—all kinds of music—conducts it, lectures on it, and plays it. Certainly he owes some of his great talent to his father, a wonderful musician who happens to play in our orchestra. We are very proud of Arthur Schuller.
But young Gunther Schuller—still in his thirties—is now the center of a whole group of young composers who look to him as their leader, and champion.
And so I thought that the perfect way to begin today’s program about jazz in the concert hall would be to play a piece by Gunther Schuller—especially this one particular piece which is an introduction to jazz for young people—a sort of Peter and the Wolf of jazz. Like Peter and the Wolf, it is written for orchestra with a speaker; and it also tells about a young boy named, of all things, Peter. One thing is different though: it calls for a symphony orchestra that also includes a jazz combo; and that is why you see up there five very distinguished young stars of the jazz world— Richard Davis [DOUBLE BASS], Don Ellis [TRUMPET], Benny Golson [TENOR SAXOPHONE], Eric Dolphy [ALTO SAXOPHONE], Joseph Cocuzzo [DRUMS].
Now because Mr. Schuller is such a fine conductor, as well as a composer, I have invited him to come conduct his piece himself; and I will step down and become the speaker taking my orders from him. So without any further explanation, here is Gunther Schuller’s third-stream composition, Journey into Jazz, with a narration written by the well-known jazz critic Nat Hentoff; and here is Gunther Schuller himself.
[ORCH: Schuller – Journey into Jazz]
“This is the story of Peter Parker—a boy who learned about jazz.
When he was still quite small, Peter Parker had strong musical tastes. For instance, when his father sang, Peter moaned. When his mother sang, Peter howled.
By the time he was five, Peter had his own toy trumpet. At six, he was given a phonograph that was as small and sturdy as he. And at seven, a transistor radio was added to help satisfy Peter’s huge hunger for music.
One day Peter taped a bold sign outside the door of his room which said, MUSIC IS BEING MADE—DO NOT ENTER.
The door was then closed. And from that day on, the sign appeared and remained in place from three to six every afternoon. From behind the door, Peter’s parents could hear the trumpet, or the phonograph playing Prokofiev or the radio playing Rossini.
And usually, all three at once.
Of course, the trumpet was loudest.
Soon Peter had a real trumpet and a real teacher whose tastes in music were as strong as Peter’s. Peter’s parents began to hear scales. First simple scales that soared slowly and floated back down again, sometimes stumbling on the way.
Then more and more difficult scales that climbed quickly and fell with dizzying speed and soaring arpeggios…
From exercises, Peter went on to play real tunes—tunes that sometimes sounded like a small stream in a great hurry, or sometimes like a deep peaceful river, or an electric storm, or sometimes like nothing Peter’s parents could imagine at all.
Peter told them that these very advanced tunes were called ‘modern music.’
They nodded, but were not quite sure they understood.
Soon Peter and his teacher began to play duets. Gradually, it became difficult to tell Peter apart from his teacher, and by the time he was fourteen, Peter was a most accomplished and exceedingly proud trumpet player. There was no music printed that he couldn’t read.
One summer afternoon, although the sign was on Peter’s door and he was not disturbed, he could not concentrate.
Somewhere, in some other house nearby, a small jazz band was playing.
Leading all the other instruments was a tenor saxophone-player who sounded more daring and full of surprises than any musician Peter ever heard. Peter was curious—and he was disturbed.
Peter took his trumpet, left his room, followed the sound, and discovered four young men in the garage of a house on the next block. Seeing his trumpet, the young musicians asked Peter to join them.
Peter looked, and looked again, but nowhere could he see any printed music.
He tried to join in with them, but something was terribly wrong.
Peter could not find a place for himself. Every time he tried, the music would simply sputter to a stop. He just didn’t fit.
‘Look,’ the tenor sax man told him, ‘you know your way around that horn all right, but you don’t know jazz. When you do, come back again. We’ll be around.’
Peter sadly trudged home. But he had been excited by the music he heard in that garage.
So he began to listen to jazz records, especially records which featured trumpet players, and soon he was having fun trying to play some of his classical pieces in jazz time.
Peter also began to realize that each jazz trumpet player had his own way of playing.
It was almost like people talking
with growls and
and funny in-between notes.
He also discovered the fun of different sounding mutes.
Finally Peter Parker felt ready.
He ran to the garage in the house on the next block.
But when he started to play with the other young musicians, there was still something terribly wrong.
He just didn’t fit. Whatever he tried, the result was the same. Peter’s horn stuck out as if he were all alone. He still could not find a place for himself.
The others seemed to be having a conversation, but when he started to blow, it was like another language.
He looked at his trumpet, but nothing was wrong with it.
And he looked at the other players, and they were shaking their heads.
‘Look,’ the tenor sax man told him. ‘You know how to play jazz on the trumpet now, but you don’t know how to play with people. When you do, come back again. We’ll be around.’
Peter sadly trudged home. He thought and thought and finally realized that on all the records he had heard, he had been listening only to the trumpet player, and not to what the other musicians were doing. So Peter began to listen to his records in a new way.
He learned about blending with other instruments. He learned about improvising countermelodies, tunes that fitted in with the solos other people were playing.
You see, up to now, Peter had been playing along with his records on top of the music; but now he tried to get inside the music, until he felt as if he were part of the conversation.
And little by little, he became a living part of every record he played.
Now once again, Peter felt ready, and returned to the garage of the house on the next block.
And this time, when he started to play with the other young jazz musicians he thought he fitted in perfectly.
But after a while, the other musicians stopped, and they stared at him mournfully.
‘Look,’ the tenor sax man said, ‘you know everything except what to say in the music. You and that trumpet make a fine machine, but jazz isn’t a machine; jazz is how you feel. What do you feel? When you know, come back again. We’ll be around.’
Peter sadly trudged home. At first he was puzzled, but little by little he began to be angry. He ran home and looked fiercely at that sign on his door ‘DO NOT ENTER—MUSIC BEING MADE HERE.’ He grabbed his trumpet, and began to play.
The first notes were full or rage—raw and ugly.
But for some strange reason, playing them made Peter feel good. He looked at the trumpet, and he thought, ‘These are my notes. This music is me.’
As the hours went by, the angry notes turned into triumphant notes, then into happy ones—all kinds of notes, filling the room. ‘And all of these notes are mine,’ Peter said. ‘These notes are how I feel.’
And that day Peter felt really ready, and he went back to the garage on the next block.
And this time, when he started to play with the other jazz musicians, he knew right away that he belonged. They played together for a long time, full of the pleasure of just making music.
Now Peter was listening to the tenor sax man.
Now he listened to the alto man—a whole other style.
Peter thought, ‘Hey, all this music is us! Jazz is PEOPLE!
Late that night Peter Parker returned home, he made a new sign and put it on his door. It said: MUSIC IS BEING MADE—COME ON IN.”
The JOURNEY INTO JAZZ you’ve just heard was written by Mr. Schuller and Mr. Hentoff only a year or so ago. But much longer ago, before you all were born, way back in the prehistoric days of 1926, a man called Aaron Copland was experimenting with jazz in the concert hall, and turning out some pretty marvelous pieces. Of course, today, Mr. Copland is America’s leading composer, loved, admired and respected all over the world by all the world of music, including you all because, if you recall, he’s appeared on these programs twice before. But at the time he wrote his jazzy Piano Concerto in 1926, he was only twenty-six years old—a young pioneer of American music. And when that Piano Concerto was first heard a year later in 1927, in the stately town of Boston, Massachusetts, with the great Koussevitsky conducting and Mr. Copland himself at the piano, there was a good deal of shock in the air. The Bostonians just couldn’t accept the idea of a third stream, way back then; but today, with the stream in full flow, the music sounds perfectly right and natural to us.
Now we’re going to hear that same Piano Concerto, thirty-seven years later; and I want you to realize that the kind of jazz you’ll be hearing is from another time. It’s jazz of the twenties, full of Charleston rhythms, boop-poop-a-doops, and a certain Gershwin-like sentimentality. And the wonderful thing is that, old as it is, it still sounds as fresh and charming and full of zip as it did in 1927.
Now we’re going to hear it played. It’s in two movements—a slow and a fast one—that are played without any pause between them. And our piano soloist, I am proud and happy to say, is none other than the original soloist from 1927, the one and only Aaron Copland.
Now, to end this exciting look into jazz in the concert hall, we’re going to come back to the music of today, and see what our younger composers are up to. We’ve brought back our jazz combo (or three fifths of it, as you see), to play for you an unusual and strange new work by a young Californian named Larry Austin. Mr. Austin is as serious a composer as you can find anywhere; he is a master of all the techniques of modern music, and, at the age of thirty-three, he is an assistant professor of music at the University of California. So this is no tossed-off stuff, but a really serious symphonic piece.
In fact, it is such a serious piece, in spite of its jazz combo and its hair-raising ending, which is like a tremendous jam-session, that I think you may not ever realize there’s jazz in it, especially during the first part. But the jazz is there, all right; only it’s gotten thoroughly mixed with the serious, or symphonic writing so that it’s almost unnoticeable—in other words, it’s a real third stream.
The other thing that makes this piece so special is the amount of improvisation that goes on in it. There are two times during the music when we long-hairs just stop playing, and let the combo invent whatever notes they happen to feel at the time. And even more unusual is the fact that certain members of the Philharmonic are also asked to improvise, every now and then, and that’s a new wrinkle.
So now, we’re going to play for you this fascinating new piece called Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, by Larry Austin. It’s in three movements—fast blues, slow blues, and very fast blues—all played without pause. And, as you may notice, without violins.
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