In 1961, Gunther Schuller defined Third Stream as "a new genre of music located about halfway between jazz and classical music".

Schuller stated what Third Stream music is not

  • It is not jazz with strings.
  • It is not jazz played on "classical" instruments.
  • It is not classical music played by jazz players.
  • It is not inserting a bit of Ravel or Schoenberg between be-bop changes—nor the reverse.
  • It is not jazz in fugal form. It is not a fugue played by jazz players.
  • It is not designed to do away with jazz or classical music; it is just another option amongst many for today’s creative musicians.

An example of Schuller's vision of Third Stream can be found on the album "Abstractions" composed by Schuller and Jim Hall.

Saying what something is not does not define what it is.

What are the rules of Third Stream composition?

  • 1
    I'm not sure we can fully define Third Stream music and exactly where between classical music and jazz it lies. The Wikipedia article you linked to says that improvisation is an important part of Third Stream music, then it mentions Nikolai Kapustin as a Third Stream composer...who eschews improvisation pretty much entirely.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 17, 2018 at 23:41
  • "Saying what something is not does not define what it is" -- structuralists might disagree with you on this point
    – Esther
    May 21, 2021 at 0:20

1 Answer 1


Schuller also said: "by designating the music as a 'separate, Third Stream', the other two mainstreams could go about their way unaffected by the attempts at fusion". 'Third Stream' gives classicists permission to use jazz elements, it gives jazzers permission to use classical elements.

As stated, this freedom has been used in various ways, both with and without improvisation. 'Third Stream' has no rules or charter. It's just a label. Stick it where you choose - on music that you might otherwise be tempted to criticise as not being 'pure jazz' or not being 'pure classical'.

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