How Did Classical Music and Jazz Music Influence Rock in the 60’s?

by Patria

The 1960s was a transformative decade for music, characterized by an unprecedented fusion of genres that paved the way for new and innovative sounds. Rock music, which emerged in the mid-20th century, drew heavily from a variety of musical styles, including classical music and jazz. These influences were instrumental in shaping the distinct sound of 60s rock, leading to the creation of some of the most enduring and influential music of the era. This article explores the profound impact that classical music and jazz had on rock music in the 1960s, examining key artists, musical techniques, and landmark recordings that exemplify this cross-genre fertilization.

1. Classical Music Influence on Rock in the 60s

Adoption of Classical Compositional Techniques

One of the most significant ways classical music influenced 60s rock was through the adoption of classical compositional techniques. Rock musicians began incorporating complex structures, sophisticated harmonic progressions, and orchestral arrangements into their music. The Beatles, particularly under the influence of producer George Martin, were pioneers in this regard. Albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featured classical instruments such as strings and brass, as well as techniques like counterpoint and modulation, which are staples of classical composition.

Orchestration and Instrumentation

The use of orchestration in rock music was another major influence of classical music. Rock bands began experimenting with a wide range of instruments beyond the traditional guitar, bass, and drums setup. The Moody Blues’ album “Days of Future Passed” is a prime example, blending rock with orchestral music to create a symphonic rock masterpiece. This album featured the London Festival Orchestra and showcased a seamless integration of classical instrumentation with rock music.

Concept Albums and Extended Compositions

Classical music’s influence was also evident in the emergence of the concept album and extended compositions in rock. Inspired by the thematic coherence and lengthy compositions of classical works, rock musicians started creating albums that were intended to be listened to as a whole rather than as a collection of individual songs. The Who’s “Tommy” and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” are quintessential examples of concept albums that reflect classical influences in their structure and thematic unity.

Baroque Rock and Progressive Rock

Baroque rock, a subgenre that emerged in the mid-60s, directly borrowed from the baroque period of classical music. Bands like The Left Banke, with their hit “Walk Away Renée,” used harpsichords and string arrangements typical of baroque music. Progressive rock, which gained prominence in the late 60s and early 70s, took these influences further by blending rock with elements of classical music, creating complex, multi-part compositions. Bands like King Crimson and Yes exemplified this trend with albums that featured intricate arrangements and virtuosic performances reminiscent of classical music.

2. Jazz Influence on Rock in the 60s

Improvisation and Complex Rhythms

Jazz’s influence on 60s rock is perhaps most apparent in the emphasis on improvisation and complex rhythms. Jazz musicians’ skill at spontaneous composition and rhythmic diversity inspired rock musicians to incorporate these elements into their own music. The Grateful Dead, for example, became known for their extended live improvisations, drawing from the jazz tradition. Songs like “Dark Star” showcased their ability to blend rock with the improvisational spirit of jazz.

Chord Progressions and Harmonic Complexity

Jazz’s sophisticated chord progressions and harmonic complexity also found their way into rock music. Bands began exploring more complex harmonic structures, moving away from the standard three-chord progressions typical of early rock and roll. This is evident in the music of The Doors, whose keyboardist Ray Manzarek brought a strong jazz influence to the band’s sound. Songs like “Riders on the Storm” feature jazz-influenced chord progressions and modal harmonies.

Fusion and Psychedelia

The blending of jazz and rock culminated in the jazz-rock fusion movement, which began in the late 60s. Bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago incorporated brass sections and jazz-style arrangements into their rock music, creating a hybrid genre that drew equally from both traditions. The rise of psychedelia in the mid-60s also saw a significant jazz influence, with bands like The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane incorporating jazz-like improvisation and complex time signatures into their music.

Influence of Jazz Musicians on Rock Artists

Jazz musicians themselves had a direct influence on rock artists. Miles Davis’s work, particularly his electric period starting with “Bitches Brew,” had a profound impact on rock musicians. His exploration of electric instruments and extended improvisations resonated with rock artists who were looking to push the boundaries of their music. John Coltrane’s innovative approach to improvisation and harmony also left a lasting mark on many rock musicians of the era.

3. Key Artists and Albums

The Beatles

The Beatles were at the forefront of incorporating classical and jazz influences into rock music. Under the guidance of George Martin, they experimented with a wide range of classical techniques and instrumentation. Albums like “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featured orchestral arrangements, complex harmonic progressions, and innovative studio techniques that were heavily influenced by classical music.

The Doors

The Doors, with their distinctive sound, were heavily influenced by jazz. Ray Manzarek’s jazz background is evident in the band’s music, particularly in the keyboard parts and improvisational sections. Their debut album, “The Doors,” and subsequent releases like “Strange Days” showcase this blend of rock and jazz.

The Moody Blues

The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed” is a landmark album that exemplifies the influence of classical music on rock. The album’s integration of rock music with orchestral arrangements created a symphonic rock masterpiece that set the stage for future explorations in progressive rock.

Miles Davis

Although primarily a jazz musician, Miles Davis’s influence on rock music cannot be overstated. His album “Bitches Brew” is often cited as a foundational work in the jazz-rock fusion genre. Davis’s innovative use of electric instruments and his approach to improvisation influenced many rock musicians and helped bridge the gap between the two genres.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears were pioneers of the jazz-rock fusion movement. Their self-titled album, released in 1968, features a blend of rock, jazz, and blues, with brass sections and complex arrangements that draw heavily from jazz traditions.

4. Legacy and Continued Influence

The blending of classical music and jazz with rock in the 60s created a rich, diverse musical landscape that continues to influence musicians today. The experimentation and genre-blending of this era laid the groundwork for progressive rock, jazz fusion, and many other subgenres that emerged in the following decades. The willingness of 60s rock musicians to draw from classical and jazz traditions not only expanded the boundaries of rock music but also demonstrated the potential for cross-genre innovation in popular music.

Modern Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion

The legacy of the 60s can be seen in modern progressive rock and jazz fusion bands that continue to push the boundaries of their genres. Bands like Dream Theater and Snarky Puppy draw on the complex structures and improvisational techniques pioneered in the 60s, blending them with contemporary sounds and production techniques.

Revival of Orchestration in Rock

The use of orchestration in rock music has seen a revival in recent years, with bands and artists incorporating classical elements into their music. This can be seen in the works of artists like Muse, who frequently use orchestral arrangements in their albums, and symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, who blend heavy metal with classical music.

Enduring Appeal of Concept Albums

The concept album, popularized in the 60s, remains a favored format for many artists. The thematic coherence and narrative structure of concept albums continue to inspire musicians across genres, demonstrating the lasting impact of classical music’s influence on rock.

See Also: How Did Gospel Music Influence Rock and Roll?


The 1960s was a decade of musical innovation and experimentation, with classical music and jazz playing pivotal roles in shaping the sound of rock music. Through the adoption of compositional techniques, orchestration, improvisation, and harmonic complexity, rock musicians of the 60s created a rich and diverse musical landscape that continues to influence artists today. The blending of these genres not only expanded the boundaries of rock music but also demonstrated the potential for cross-genre innovation, paving the way for future musical explorations.

related articles

Dive into the enchanting world of music at, your ultimate destination for discovering new and diverse sounds. From emerging artists to timeless classics, embark on a musical journey that transcends genres and captivates your senses.

Copyright © 2023