Or, to paraphrase what the jazz critic Ben Ratliff once said about some of the more experimental extremes of jazz — from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Evan Parker — what made it jazz was that jazz musicians were playing it.
As a composer, Schaphorst says, "I have written for classical musicians, and that's different than saying I've written classical music."
Repertoire is also what distinguishes the Jazz Studies department from Contemporary Improvisation (CI) at NEC. The jazz students are expected to arrive at the school with a working knowledge of jazz repertoire — especially the bebop standards. CI is a bit different.
"I think of 'contemporary improvisation' as a term that kind of defines the way a lot of musicians have viewed themselves for a very long time," says CI chair (and former Jazz Studies chair) Hankus Netsky. "In other words, not really being in a genre, but doing their music, which is informed by many different parts of their musical background. And I think that ever since Sgt. Pepper, for example, it's been very hard to define things like rock. And probably since at least [Jimmy Giuffre's] Free Fall, it's been very hard to define jazz. . . . Like, Nina Simone — what was she?"
For Netsky, "Musical training is musical training. There are a huge bunch of resources out there, and if you're ignoring any of them, you have a problem."
Thus, it was natural for Netsky to suggest to the NEC student (and Grammy-nominated singer) Sarah Jarosz and her band that they should listen to Beethoven's Opus 132, "because that's what they needed for what they were trying to do." The pan-stylistic approach is central to the CI/Third Stream ethos. "Are students not supposed to know Bach or Mingus or Monk or Elvis Costello?" asks Netsky.
"It's funny," Netsky continues, "you've got these bluegrass string players today who can play more notes than a mile of ants on a Tennessee anthill — I think that's the line — but the question is: what happens when the music calls for a passionate, romantic expression? And then, you know, you listen to indie rock, and that's what's expected! Ever since Jeff Buckley, recorded 'Hallelujah.' That made it okay. That made Pavarotti okay. That made the entire history of opera okay for a generation. That somebody could do something vocally that passionate and absolutely technically perfect."
Netsky says that indie-rock bands like Beirut and Animal Collective affirm the Third Stream aesthetic. "They have tremendous range. The post-Radiohead groups are like, 'Oh, okay, you can do anything.' The point is that you want to have musical skills so that any gig you're interested in you can do. You're not going to be interested in everything, but it's important to have a broad range. . . . I actually said that to Gunther once. I was driving him home, and I said, 'Well, Gunther, it's too bad the Third Stream thing didn't work out, but how do you feel about being the father of indie rock?' He thought that was okay."
REBIRTH OF THE THIRD STREAM :: Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St, Boston :: November 29 :: 8 pm :: Free :: 617.585.1260 or necmusic.edu