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Third Stream Music - The Jazz-Classical Alchemy of Jacques Loussier
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 3 Episode #9




REC – “Polymath” (from Syzygy for the Weird)

“Classical Space-Jazz 1” (from the soundtrack to Lock-Load-Love)

“Classical Space-Jazz 2” (from the soundtrack to Lock-Load-Love)

There’s a frame of mind that insists that the connections between genres are tangential & theoretical at best. Of course, MUSIC is not a GENRE is out to debunk that myth. It’s hard enough to battle that mindset in the popular realm – like how country people don’t like hip hop or rock people don’t like dance. Those boundaries are blurring more & more, thankfully, because of the mish-mosh that is the internet and especially because of young artists like Breland or Rina Sawayama, who don’t see a reason to stay “pure”.


When it comes to so-called “highbrow” music – a distinction I reject, by the way – the bias is even stronger. There seems to be a need for high minded people to cling to a false sense of purity in their chosen music. Lovers of classical – or more accurately orchestral – music tend to dismiss anything written from at least Stravinsky onward, if not before. Jazz heads are often so strict about what’s considered jazz that they’ll dismiss all but one or two sub-classifications. Like how Wynton Marsalis once claimed that if a song wasn’t rooted in a blues structure then it’s not jazz.


There have been, and always will be, people who are open to blends & mashups & cross-pollination, and people who need very solid & high walls to keep out anything they feel doesn’t fit. But if you’re a true lover of MUSIC – the history & development, the taxonomy and Darwinian evolution – then you know that ALL WALLS ARE FALSE, and have been SINCE FOREVER.

If jazz is defined by improv, then are rock guitar solos jazz? If classical is defined by a strict interpretation of written notes, then how do you reconcile the hard fact that Liszt and Chopin and Mozart and even Bach were all known for their dazzling improvisational skills? We think classical music was always set in stone because we only inherited the sheet music. SO not true.


Jacques Loussier knew this, and his music is one of the greatest embodiments of the porous boundaries between jazz & classical. He was known for interpreting the works of Bach, Vivaldi, Satie and many others, adding lots of improv in with the familiar melodies, harmonies & rhythms. He was a French pianist whose melding of jazz & classical was known as “third stream”, a term that’s been around since the 1950s. Even though these venerable works don’t need a jolt of improv to make them great, the third stream approach brings them right into the present moment. It makes them feel like they’re brand new.


Few were better at this than Loussier. As a fan of French Impressionists like Debussy & Satie & Ravel, it makes sense to me that a jazz pianist from France would be so adept at third stream. Those composers’ underlying chord structures presaged jazz in a big way, and lend themselves quite well to improv.  But he was the first to believe that Bach could be interpreted this way too, knowing that there was historical precedent for it. And that’s where my love of his work started. Plus, just saying “Jacques Plays Bach” is fun.


I’ve used classical & jazz elements in many of my songs, probably none more so than “Dream for Real”, based on Pachelbel’s "Canon in D." More recently, my band REC’s song “Polymath” uses a harpsichord-like keyboard sound to weave in a couple of classical inspired passages. And then there are the pair of songs I did for the film Lock-Load-Love, which combine well-known classical pieces, jazz rhythms, and space sounds. They were heavily influenced by Loussier, with a little bit of Esquivel thrown in:


REC – “Polymath” (from Syzygy for the Weird) -

“Classical Space-Jazz 1” (from the soundtrack to Lock-Load-Love) –

“Classical Space-Jazz 2” (from the soundtrack to Lock-Load-Love) -


Do you know Jacques Loussier’s work? Or any other third stream artist? Have you heard Jon Batiste or other contemporary jazz artists weave classical into their music? Are you a purist or do you like when disciplines cross lines? Discuss dammit!

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