All Things Kenton Blog

Progressive Jazz

When Pete Rugolo joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra as staff arranger in late 1945 he brought with him his love of jazz, Stravinsky and Bartók. Given free reign by Kenton, he experimented constantly, creating a sound that was at the same time innovative and popular. Although Kenton himself was already creating somewhat experimental scores prior to Rugolo’s tenure, it was Rugolo who brought to the band the extra-jazz influences and the ultra-experimental approach that were to dominate the band through much of its existence. This music in the mid to late 1940s, first termed Artistry in Rhythm, and later, Progressive Jazz, was dominated by the scores of Rugolo.

Rugolo had the ideal background to transform the Kenton sound. After completing his undergraduate music degree at San Francisco State University, he earned his masters at Mills College in Oakland, studying composition with Darius Milhaud (Dave Brubeck was a fellow student). It was there that his attraction for modern classical music first blossomed. He was exposed to the modern sounds of composers such as Stravinsky and Schoenberg. He had a few lessons with Bartók during a summer session at Mills. Amongst the many additional composers influencing him during his student years were Samuel Barber, Edgard Varèse and William Schuman. But it was Stravinsky and Bartók that were his primary interest. He owned the bulk of their scores, studied them profusely and stole from them liberally. At the same time he was learning from the recordings of Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford—and subsequently, Stan Kenton.

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So begins an essay I wrote, as I assembled ALL THING KENTON’S newest addition, an in depth look at the Progressive Jazz era. Follow the link below and take a bath in the world of 1947/48. You can see the day to day itinerary, listen to live performances, read articles, and see rare photos.