Progressive music

Bandleader Stan Kenton coined "progressive jazz" for his complex, loud, and brassy approach to big band jazz that conveyed an association with art music.[1]

Progressive music is music that attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with specific genres of music.[2] The word comes from the basic concept of "progress", which refers to development and growth by accumulation,[3] and is often deployed in the context of distinct genres such as progressive country, progressive folk, progressive jazz, and (most significantly) progressive rock.[4] Music that is deemed "progressive" usually synthesizes influences from various cultural domains, such as European art music, Celtic folk, West Indian, or African.[5] It is rooted in the idea of a cultural alternative[6] and may also be associated with auteur-stars and concept albums, considered traditional structures of the music industry.[7]

As an art theory, the progressive approach falls between formalism and eclecticism.[8][9] "Formalism" refers to a preoccupation with established external compositional systems, structural unity, and the autonomy of individual art works. Like formalism, "eclecticism" connotates a predilection toward style synthesis or integration. However, contrary to formalist tendencies, eclecticism foregrounds discontinuities between historical and contemporary styles and electronic media, sometimes referring simultaneously to vastly different musical genres, idioms, and cultural codes.[10] In marketing, "progressive" is used to distinguish a product from "commercial" pop music.[11]


Progressive jazz is a form of big band that is more complex[12] or experimental.[1] It originated in the 1940s with arrangers who drew from modernist composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith.[12][nb 1] Its "progressive" features were replete with dissonance, atonality, and brash effects.[14] Progressive jazz was most popularized by the bandleader Stan Kenton during the 1940s.[12] Critics were initially wary of the idiom.[12] Dizzy Gillespie wrote in his autobiography; "They tried to make Stan Kenton a 'white hope,' called modern jazz and my music 'progressive,' then tried to tell me I played 'progressive' music. I said, 'You're full of shit!' 'Stan Kenton? There ain't nothing in my music that's cold, cold like his."[15]

Progressive big band is a style of big band or swing music that was made for listening, with denser, more modernistic arrangements and more room to improvise. The online music guide AllMusic states that, along with Kenton, musicians like Gil Evans, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Cal Massey, Frank Foster, Carla Bley, George Gruntz, David Amram, Sun Ra, and Duke Ellington were major proponents of the style.[16]

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