In addition to his recorded improvisations, Beiderbecke published four piano compositions that also reflect the influence of Debussy and Ravel. In these piano pieces, he used harmonic progressions that go beyond the standard progressions of popular songs. In a Mist, first recorded in September of 1927, is the most well-known of Beiderbeckes piano compositions. It includes many patterns of pitch organization that we will observe in Debussys and Ravels music. Green writes of this piece: In a Mist itself epitomizes the extraordinary conflict which raged inside [Beiderbecke]. It is a bewildering amalgam of barrelhouse thumping and Debussyan subtleties which illustrates more pointedly than any facts or any anecdotes how the sensibilities of a jazz musician were stimulated by the impact of modern impressionist music. (1962: 45-46)
As we have seen (page 4 above), Berton witnessed Beiderbecke listening attentively to recordings of Debussys compositions. Berton adds that Beiderbecke afterwards would sit at the piano and imitate the sounds he heard, gradually developing Debussys themes and harmonies into improvisations. He would begin in Debussys style, then a rhythmical pulse in the left hand would gradually evolve into an insistent swing rhythm, transforming Beiderbeckes improvisation into jazz. After reaching a musical climax, Beiderbecke would abandon the jazz style and return to a style more like that of Debussy (156-59). Continuously reworking and developing these piano segments over a period of time--on breaks between sets during nightclub engagements, at Bertons house, and elsewhere--Beiderbecke gradually developed his musings into complete solo piano compositions. Bertons description of what occurred after Beiderbecke listened repeatedly to Debussys Ibéria provides us a window into Beiderbeckes compositional process:
After getting all the way to the end of his ear rendition, Bix began to improvise on one of the sequences (In the Streets and Byways [Par les rues et par les chemins]). It wasnt exactly jazz, and it wasnt exactly Debussy; it was--Bix. . . . Sometimes he would sit at the piano toying with chords for a few minutes, and then, as though unconsciously, drift into some part of a record Id played for him a week before, Ravel or Milhaud or Fauré, but oftenest Debussy. He was crazy about LAprès-midi dun faune and couldnt get enough of it; he seemed to discover something new every time we listened to it. A succession of far-out harmonies, seemingly unrelated, and suddenly Id become aware that they had led subtly but inevitably into, say, LAprès-midi . . . (157-58). Otis Ferguson also comments on Beiderbeckes compositional process, stating that Beiderbecke listened with awe to Debussy records and would sequester himself and sit morosely at the piano fingering the chords of a new music (88).
Gunther Schuller, while acknowledging the influence of Debussys music on Beiderbecke, suggests that Beiderbecke was indirectly influenced by the European composer through performing with the Whiteman and Frankie Trumbauer orchestras. These large ensembles, devoted to an early fusion of Western art music and jazz, featured music written by Bill Challis, Ferde Grofé, Fud Livingston and others, pieces that were often derivative of Debussys and Ravels musical styles (191-92).
In a Mist contains several patterns of pitch organization that seem to derive from the music of Debussy and Ravel, as my analysis of works by those composers (Debussy--on pages 14-21, Ravel--on pages 39-46) will show.6 These include the use of the whole-tone scale, pc mixtures, non-functional chord successions, bichords, and other elements of the European composers style.
Although In a Mist is in the key of C major, prominent pcs forming subsets of whole-tone collections, for example, can be observed on beats two through four of measures 2, 4, 6, and elsewhere. The entire whole-tone scale is evident in measure 18, and the other whole-tone scale can be seen, for example, in measures 14 and 27-28.
Pc mixtures on the same priority note also appear. An A9 pentachord is mixed with an A pentachord comprised of A, B, C, E and F# in measures 51-52; and a pc comprised of A, B, C#, E, F and G is juxtaposed with a pentachord consisting of A, B, C, E and F# in measures 59-60. Although not totally free of tonally functional harmonic chord relationships through the circle of fifths, In a Mist contains many non-functional chord successions of different kinds--some stepwise, some disjunct. The first two measures, which recur throughout this piece, are based on a stepwise descending chord succession: FMA9, Eb9+11, D9, Db9+11. Another stepwise nonfunctional chord succession begins in measure 5, this time ascending: A13, Bb+7, B+7 (no 3), C7, C#+7+11, D#+7+11 (no 3), E#+7+11 (no 3), F#7b5 (no 3), D13 (no 11), and the following non-functional chord succession appears in measures 35-36: Am7, Dm7, CMA7, BbMA7, CMA7.
Non-functional chord successions involving root successions in 3s and 4s7 occur, for example, in measures 7-9: F#7+11, D13, FMA9; a B9 is succeeded by a D9 in measures 19-20; and aD is followed by an F#11 (no 3) in measures 40-41.
Resolution of the leading-tone--or the leading-tone itself--is often absent in cadences. The B moves down to A rather than resolving up to C when the G13 V chord moves to the tonic C triad in measures 16 and 78. The leading-tone appearing within a G9 does not resolve between beat four of measure 26 and beat one of measure 27: instead, the B is reiterated in another register on a CMA7 with an added minor tenth blue note. In measures 35-37 the tonic C triad is approached with a Dm7 (ii7) and a BbMA7 (bVIIMA7), neither of which contain the leading-tone.
Bichords are present throughout In a Mist.8 Cb+s appear over Db7s to create Db9+11 bichords in measures 2, 4, and elsewhere. The same relationship exists on all Eb9+11s contained in this piece; and C#+s appear over A7b5s, creating A+7+11 bichords in measures 1 and 18.
Quartal harmony and parallel chords are also evident in this composition. Examples of the former can be seen in measures 5 and 16, and in many other places in the score. Ascending parallel seventh chords with the root succession A, Bb, B, C, C#, D#, E# and F# can be found, for example, in measures 5-7 and 13-15. A descending parallel chord succession, F#m7-5, B7b5 over F bass, Em7-5, Ebm7-5 and Dm7-5 can be found in measures 39-40. There are melodic parallel 4s in measures 2, 7, 15, and elsewhere; and parallel 5s and/or 7s occur in measures 21-23, 26, and 29-31.
As in Riverboat Shuffle, unresolved melodic and harmonic tensions of kinds I will later identify in Debussys and Ravels music, abound in Beiderbeckes "In a Mist." Added major sixths appear on F triads in measures 1, 73, and elsewhere; and As on C triads, for example, appear in measures 23 and 46-49. Added sixths occur on minor chords in measures 22 and 52: on beat four of measure 22 a B on a Dm6/9 can be seen; in measure 52 an F# on an Am6/9 appears. Unresolved major seventh tensions also occur in this piece: an E on an FMA9 can be seen in measures 1, 104, and elsewhere.
Unresolved ninth tensions are also present. There is a major ninth, a G on an FMA7, for example, on an FMA9 in measure 1; and on beat one of measure 30 an A on a G6/9 can be seen. Major ninths also occur on dominant seventh-type chords. For example, an Eb on a Db9+11 appears in measure 2; and a B on an A13 can be seen in measure 5. Major ninth tensions also appear on minor chords. An E on a Dm6/9 can be seen on beat four of measure 22, for example; and an E is placed on a Dm9 on beat four of measure 47. Major ninths also can be found on halfdiminished chords. There is an E on a Dm7-5 off of beat three in measure 40, and on beat four of measure 41. Augmented ninth blue notes (sometimes spelled as minor tenths) also occur on major chords. For example, an Eb appears on CMA7s--on beat two of measure 27, and off of beat one in measures 49 and 57. There is perfect eleventh tension, a C on a G7, on beat three of measure 83, and on beat three of measure 90.
Augmented eleventh tensions also appear on major chords. For example, a B on an FMA7+11 appears on beat two of measures 22 and 30; and on the first beat of measure 112 and on the fourth beat of measure 113, an F# on a CMA7 can be seen. Augmented elevenths also appear on dominant-type chords. For example, there is an A on an Eb9+11 on beat three of measures 1 and 11; and there is a C on an F#7+11 on beat one of measure 15. Unresolved thirteenth tensions also appear in this piece. For example, a B on a D9 can be seen on beat three of measure 20; and Es on a G13 (no 5) can be seen in the second half of measure 34. Minor thirteenth tensions also appear. For example, a G on a B9b13 can be seen on beat two of measure 17; and an F on an A+7 can be viewed on beat one of measure 43.
Fused with the traditional rhythmic and thematic jazz elements of barrelhouse and ragtime piano styles, these Impressionist mannerisms supplied a new sound to jazz of the 1920s. They added a sense of melodic and harmonic surprise and sophistication to an already vibrant rhythmic jazz piano genre.