It has been said that Claude Debussy invented jazz harmonic theory. But is there any evidence that Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, the inventors of bebop, were aware of Debussy's harmonic principles?

  • Don't forget about Dizzy! Aug 9, 2014 at 7:09
  • It is difficult to assess the weight of European composers on the African-American musicians who invented bebop. Bebop was born out of anger. African-American jazz musicians couldn't make a living from swing music, which they had invented, because white musicians had appropriated it and could play it in places where African-Americans weren't allowed to go.
    – empty
    Aug 12, 2014 at 7:38
  • Whoa! Didn't know that Debussy influenced bebop. :P
    – krismath
    Oct 16, 2014 at 7:47
  • 2
    @pro, there is evidence that bebop was made difficult in order to exclude outsiders or weak players. However, the statement "bebop was born out of anger" seems overly broad because (1) we cannot attribute feelings of anger to all of the founders of bebop and (2) this explanation discounts the harmonic and melodic curiosity that drove bebop's creation. Can you share a source on this claim of angry feelings to help us better understand the meaning of this statement?
    – jdjazz
    Sep 2, 2017 at 14:49
  • 1
    @Haversine, check out The Birth of Bebop: A Social And Musical History by Scott DeVeaux.
    – jdjazz
    May 4, 2020 at 12:00

3 Answers 3


Debussy surely influenced the piano playing of trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke.

It is also said that the bebop harmony has been inspired by Western Music; from people like Debussy and Schoenberg.

Kubik, Gerhard. "Bebop: a case in point. The African Matrix in Jazz Harmonic Practices." (Critical essay) Black Music Research Journal 22 Mar 2005. Digital.:

While for an outside observer, the harmonic innovations in bebop would appear to be inspired by experiences in Western "serious" music, from Claude Debussy to Arnold Schoenberg, such a scheme cannot be sustained by the evidence from a cognitive approach. Claude Debussy did have some influence on jazz, for example, on Bix Beiderbecke's piano playing. And it is also true that Duke Ellington adopted and reinterpreted some harmonic devices in European contemporary music.

West Coast jazz would run into such debts as would several forms of cool jazz. But bebop has hardly any such debts in the sense of direct borrowings. On the contrary, ideologically, bebop was a strong statement of rejection of any kind of eclecticism, propelled by a desire to activate something deeply buried in self. Bebop then revived tonal-harmonic ideas transmitted through the blues and reconstructed and expanded others in a basically non-Western harmonic approach. The ultimate significance of all this is that the experiments in jazz during the 1940s brought back to African-American music several structural principles and techniques rooted in African traditions.

Also, there are some scales that Debussy used that where later used in bebop (and jazz), like the whole tone scale.

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(The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History)


Debussy and a few of the later romantic composers like Ravel, Wagner & Holst formulated chord voicings and extended harmony that many jazz pianists (whom had generally already studied classical & romantic music formally or informally) incorporated into their playing.

It is important to note that the rhythms in jazz and the stylistic application of these and instrumentation are almost exclusively the invention of the african american cultural dialogue, some harmonic and melodic elements had previously been explored by european composers.

In turn a lot of the ideas that inspired the romantic composers such as pentatonics, poly tonality and poly rhythms had come from their own exposure to south east asia and the africa.

So as is often the case historically in music, influences are varied and cyclic.

  • The cord of music is a braid of many threads combining and separating and combining again.
    – empty
    Aug 30, 2017 at 16:17

My understanding of the 'joke ' behind bebop goes like this: Take the chords to something like I Got Rhythm. Create a new progression using substitute chords and make them altered/extended. Compose a new melody that reflects these new notes. Lie in wait for an unsuspecting 'musician'. Tell them it's 'Rhythm Changes' in two flats and count it in at double fast tempo. None of the above sounds very Debussy. I suspect the only cutting contest he entered involved cheese. It is true the French composers appreciated ragtime though.

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