American Composer William Grant Still (1895-1978) is not a Third Stream proponent in the usual sense - but then, "the usual" you can get anytime; seekers of The Unusual be alerted. Still - intrinsically a "classical" composer - is part of the continuum of American composers that includes Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Gunther Schuller, George Gershwin, Scott Joplin and, yes, Duke Ellington - all composers unique for the way they synthesized seemingly diverse facets of American music (and the American experience), and though the basis is the European classical model, these fellows learned from it and created something all their own. Of considerable import is the fact that these music-makers’ compositions would not be what they are without the jazz tradition.
Still is not nearly as well known as the others, but with any luck, this collection might spread the word to new generations. The music here, for string quartet and piano/violin duo, is tonal and rich in elegant, classy melody. But it’s an "elegance" not of Paris, Hamburg or London, but rather of Kansas City, New York or New Orleans. In Still’s compositions, the syntax may be similar to that of Ravel or Debussy, but the accents and motifs (implicitly or explicitly) are from the Blues, and his approach to rhythm is clearly of the American patois. The piece not coincidentally titled "Blues" could be an Ellington miniature, or something Scott Joplin might’ve written had he lived into the 40s. For those who think that a string quartet is not a "proper" vehicle for expressing the Blues, I direct you to "Wade In The Water" from Still’s "Little Folk Suites." Still (who just happened to be an African-American) was a man with big ears: he was not only touched by the lessons of the European and American masters that came before him, he also was open to the folk sounds both sides of our borders - behold the charming, ragtime-tinged "Danzas De Panama" string quartet. (Note the string quartet’s use of their instruments as "percussion.") Still’s music is remarkable for its disarming simplicity, emotional directness and humanity - he deserves to be more widely heard, and not "just" in the hallowed halls where classical music is enshrined.