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History of Progressive Jazz Music
by Alex Cosper (12/16/12)


The timeline of progressive jazz has an unclear starting point since the nature of the music has so many influences. The term itself "progressive jazz" began to surface in the 1940s. A post-war subgenre of this music was called "cool jazz" in that period, which was a more laid back presentation than the vibrant sounds of traditional jazz. Progressive jazz in general broke away from established idioms of jazz. Some of the artists known for this new direction in the 1940s were Stan Kenton, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Progressive jazz moved toward modernization in the 1950s and 1960s, tapping into more complex arrangements than what had been played by big bands. Another important departure from traditional jazz was the use of improvisaton. It was unlikely that a song would be played like the recorded version since every live performance had a carefree approach to song structure and a more intense focus on free expression with instruments. Musicians who performed this sound from California during this era formed the basis of what became known as "west coast jazz."

By the 1960s there was a fairly well-known group of artists who could be categorized as progressive jazz. Some of the big names from his genre that appealed to independent thinkers included Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker and Stan Getz. Although this music was not aimed at the pop charts, its influence could be felt in hits such as "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck in 1961, "Desafinado" by Stan Getz and Charlie Bird in 1962 and "The Girl From Ipanema" by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto in 1964.

The key to progressive jazz was that it was meant for listening than dancing. While it incorporated popular elements of jazz such as bebop, which was a form of scat singing that used nonsense lyrics to fit rhythm patterns. While typical jazz stayed locked into an even 4/4 time signature, the new jazz experimented with various offbeat timing, opening a new wider terrain of percussion possibilities. Another direction for progressive jazz was the inclusion of elements of classical music.

By the late sixties a new form of jazz emerged that merged jazz and psychedelic rock, known as "jazz rock fusion." Some of the artists who experimented with this sound included Herbie Hancock, Weather Report and Frank Zappa. After the 1970s the label "progressive jazz" seemed to dissolve while the term "modern jazz" gained favorability to encompass a wider cross-section of newer jazz music. While the label hasn't stuck, the concept of exploring beyond the roots of jazz remains alive and well.





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