Progressive music

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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 a type of music that experiments with alternative routes and expands stylistic boundaries outward.[2][3] The word "progressive" is based on the root concept of "progress", which refers to development and growth by accumulation,[4] and is often deployed in various music genres such as progressive country, progressive folk, and progressive jazz.[5] As a genre label, it is most significantly used in rock,[5] whereas in marketing, "progressive" is used to distinguish a product from "commercial" pop music.[6] It is linked to auteurs and concept albums.[7]

Jazz began to take itself seriously as swing gave way to bebop in the 1940s, but its listeners failed to move with the musicians. Following the economic boom of the mid 1960s, record labels began investing in artists whose ambitions paralleled these earlier attempts in jazz, allowing performers limited control over their own content and marketing. This resulted in a brief period in which creative authenticity among musical artists and consumer marketing coincided with each other, a situation that fell into abeyance between the late 1970s and the birth of Internet stars.


"Progressive jazz" redirects here. For other uses, see Progressive jazz (disambiguation).
See also: Bebop, Cool jazz, and Third stream

Progressive jazz is a form of big band that is more complex[8] or experimental.[1] It originated in the 1940s with arrangers who drew from modernist composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith.[8] its "progressive" features were replete with dissonance, atonality, and brash effects.[9] Progressive jazz was most popularized by the bandleader Stan Kenton during the 1940s.[8] Critics were initially wary of the idiom.[8] 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."[10]

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 "progressive big band", a style of big band or swing music that was made for listening, with denser, more modernistic arrangements and more room to improvise.[11]

Pop and rock[edit]

Further information: Experimental pop and Experimental rock

Up until the mid 1960s, individual idiolects always operated within particular styles. What was so revolutionary about this post-hippie music that came to be called 'progressive' ... was that musicians acquired the facility to move between styles—the umbilical link between idiolect and style had been broken.

—Allan Moore[12]

In 1966, the degree of social and artistic dialogue among rock musicians dramatically accelerated for bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Byrds.[4] Rock music started to take itself seriously, paralleling earlier attempts in jazz (as swing gave way to bop, a move which did not succeed with audiences). In this period, the popular song began signaling a new possible means of expression that went beyond the three-minute love song.[13][nb 1] When the post-hippie music labelled "progressive" first emerged, it was dubbed progressive pop before it was called progressive rock,[12] with the term "progressive" referring to the wide range of attempts to break with standard pop music formula.[15] A number of additional factors contributed to the acquired "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", some harmonic language was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music, the album format overtook singles, and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening, not dancing.[16]

Proto-prog is the advanced music that slightly predates the progressive rock era of the late 1960s.[17][nb 2] Progressive rock evolved from psychedelic (or "acid") rock music,[4] and the term is almost synonymous with "art rock".[19] One way of conceptualizing rock and roll in relation to "progressive music" is that progressive music pushed the genre into greater complexity while retracing the roots of romantic and classical music.[20] Sociologist Paul Willis believes: "We must never be in doubt that 'progressive' music followed rock 'n' roll, and that it could not have been any other way. We can see rock 'n' roll as a deconstruction and 'progressive' music as a reconstruction."[2] Author Will Romano states that "rock itself can be interpreted as a progressive idea ... Ironically, and quite paradoxically, 'progressive rock', the classic era of the late 1960s through the mid- and late 1970s, introduces not only the explosive and exploratory sounds of technology ... but traditional music forms (classical and European folk) and (often) a pastiche compositional style and artificial constructs (concept albums) which suggests postmodernism."[21]

The Beach Boys' leader Brian Wilson is credited for setting a precedent that allowed bands and artists to enter a recording studio and act as their own producers.[22]

The music was developed immediately following a brief period in the mid 1960s where creative authenticity among musical artists and consumer marketing coincided with each other.[2] Before the progressive pop of the late 1960s, performers were typically unable to decide on the artistic content of their music.[23] Assisted by the mid 1960s economic boom, record labels began investing in artists, giving them freedom to experiment, and offering them limited control over their content and marketing.[6][nb 3] The growing student market serviced record labels with the word "progressive", being adopted as a marketing term to differentiate their product from "commercial" pop.[6] By 1970, a journalist at Melody Maker highlighted progressive pop as the "most fascinating and recent development" in popular music, writing that the music is "meant for a wide audience but which is intended to have more permanent value than the six weeks in the charts and the 'forget it' music of older pop forms."[24] This notion would continue onward to the New Pop movement of the 1980s, described by critic Simon Reynolds as "a conscious and brave attempt to bridge the separation between 'progressive' pop and mass/chart pop – a divide which has existed since 1967, and is also, broadly, one between boys and girls, middle-class and working-class."[25]

Macan writes that King Crimson's album "displays every element of the mature progressive rock genre ... [and] exerted a powerful extramusical influence on later progressive rock bands".[26]

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Cleveland's Troy Smith believes that the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds "established the group as forefathers of progressive pop".[27] Both Pet Sounds and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), with their lyrical unity, extended structure, complexity, eclecticism, experimentalism, and influences derived from classical music forms, are largely viewed as beginnings in the progressive rock genre.[28][nb 4] Critics assumed King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) to be the logical extension and development of late 1960s proto-progressive rock exemplified by the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles.[30] According to Edward Macan, the album may be the most influential to progressive rock for crystallizing the music of earlier "proto-progressive bands ... into a distinctive, immediately recognizable style".[26] He distinguishes 1970s "classic" prog from late 1960s proto-prog by the conscious rejection of psychedelic rock elements, which proto-progressive bands continued to embrace.[31]

In the opinion of King Crimson's Robert Fripp, "progressive" music was an attitude, not a style. He believed that genuinely "progressive" music pushes stylistic and conceptual boundaries outwards through the appropriation of procedures from classical music or jazz, and that once "progressive rock" ceased to cover new ground – becoming a set of conventions to be repeated and imitated – the genre's premise had ceased to be "progressive".[3] "Post-progressive" is a term invented to distinguish a type of rock music from the persistent "progressive rock" style associated with the 1970s.[32]


AllMusic defines "progressive electronic" as a subgenre of new age music which "thrives in more unfamiliar territory. The styles that emerge are often dictated by the technology itself. Rather than sampling or synthesizing acoustic sounds to electronically replicate them, these composers tend to mutate the original timbres, sometimes to an unrecognizable state. True artists in the genre also create their own sounds."[33] Reynolds posits that "the truly progressive edge in electronic music involves doing things that can't be physically achieved by human beings manipulating instruments in real-time."[34]

Giorgio Moroder performing in 2015

In house music, a desire to define precise stylistic strands and taste markets saw the interposition of prefixes like "progressive", "tribal", and "intelligent". According to DJ/producer Carl Craig, the term "progressive" was used in Detroit in the early 1980s in reference to Italian disco. The music was dubbed "progressive" because it drew upon the influence of Giorgio Moroder's Euro disco rather than the disco inspired by the symphonic Philadelphia sound.[35] In this context, Reynolds criticizes terms like "progressive" and "intelligent", arguing that "when an underground scene starts talking this talk, it's usually a sign that it's gearing up the media game as a prequel to buying intro traditional music industry structure of auteur-stars, concept albums, and long-term careers. Above all, it's a sign of impending musical debility, creeping self-importance, and the hemorrhaging away of fun."[36]

In the mid 1990s, progressive electronica artists were spearheaded by the Lowercase movement, a reductive approach towards new digital technologies.[37] By 1993, progressive house and trance music had emerged in dance clubs.[38] "Progressive house" was an English style of house distinguished by long tracks, big riffs, mild dub inflections, and multitiered percussion. According to Reynolds, the "'progressive' seemed to signify not just its anti-cheese, nongirly credentials, but its severing of house's roots from gay black disco."[39] Reynolds also identifies links between progressive rock and other electronic music genres, and that "many post-rave genres bear an uncanny resemblance to progressive rock: conceptualism, auteur-geniuses, producers making music to impress other producers, [and] showboating virtuosity reborn as the 'science' of programming finesse."[40]


  1. ^ Allan Moore writes: "It should be clear by now that, although this history appears to offer a roughly chronological succession of styles, there is no single, linear history to that thing we call popular song. ... Sometimes it appears that there are only peripheries. Sometimes, audiences gravitate towards a centre. The most prominent period when this happened was in the early to mid 1960s when it seems that almost everyone, irrespective of age, class or cultural background, listened to the Beatles. But by 1970 this monolothic position had again broken down. Both the Edgar Broughton Band's 'Apache dropout' and Edison Lighthouse's 'Love grows' were released in 1970 with strong Midlands/London connections, and both were audible on the same radio stations, but were operating according to very different aesthetics. Both the 'underground' and the 'establishment' intersect their listening publics."[14]
  2. ^ Author Doyle Greene believes that the "proto-prog" label can stretch to "the later Beatles and Frank Zappa", Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, and United States of America.[18]
  3. ^ This situation fell in disuse after the late 1970s and would not reemerge until the rise of Internet stars.[6]
  4. ^ Describing Pet Sounds as "unprecedented" for the way its "notes moved and vibrated across the record", music critic Joel Freimark says that "many may struggle to see the direct link between the bright, bouncy tones of Pet Sounds and bands like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and countless prog-rock bands."[29]


  1. ^ a b "Progressive Jazz". AllMusic. 
  2. ^ a b c Willis 2014, p. 219.
  3. ^ a b Macan 1997, p. 206.
  4. ^ a b c Holm-Hudson 2013, p. 85.
  5. ^ a b Guern 2016, p. 33.
  6. ^ a b c d Moore 2016, p. 202.
  7. ^ Reynolds 2013, pp. 6–7, 386.
  8. ^ a b c d Ake, Garrett & Goldmark 2012, p. 131.
  9. ^ Butler 2002, pp. 103–105.
  10. ^ Gillespie 2009, p. 337.
  11. ^ "Progressive Big Band". AllMusic. 
  12. ^ a b Moore 2004, p. 22.
  13. ^ Moore 2016, p. 201.
  14. ^ Moore 2016, pp. 199–200.
  15. ^ Haworth & Smith 1975, p. 126.
  16. ^ Moore 2016, pp. 201–202.
  17. ^ Sositko, Jason (May 8, 2015). "What Are the Best Proto-Prog Rock Albums of All-Time?". Spacial Anomaly. 
  18. ^ Greene 2016, p. 182.
  19. ^ "Prog-Rock". AllMusic. 
  20. ^ Willis 2014, pp. 204, 219.
  21. ^ Romano 2010, p. 24.
  22. ^ Edmondson 2013, p. 890.
  23. ^ Willis 2014, p. 217.
  24. ^ Jacobshagen, Leniger & Henn 2007, p. 141.
  25. ^ Reynolds 2006, p. 398.
  26. ^ a b Macan 1997, p. 23.
  27. ^ Smith, Troy L. (May 24, 2016). "50 greatest album-opening songs". 
  28. ^ Macan 1997, p. 15,20.
  29. ^ Freimark, Joel (January 26, 2016). "Brian Wilson tours to celebrate 50th anniversary of 'Pet Sounds'". Death and Taxes Mag. 
  30. ^ Macan 2005, p. 75.
  31. ^ Macan 2005, p. xxiii.
  32. ^ Hegarty & Halliwell 2011, p. 224.
  33. ^ "Progressive Electronic". AllMusic. 
  34. ^ Reynolds 2013, p. 50.
  35. ^ Reynolds 2013, pp. 7, 16.
  36. ^ Reynolds 2013, pp. 6–7.
  37. ^ Potter & Gann 2016, p. 178.
  38. ^ Reynolds 2013, p. 184.
  39. ^ Reynolds 2013, p. 376.
  40. ^ Reynolds 2013, p. 386.


Further reading[edit]