Improvisation Wisdom from Dizzy Gillespie, part 1

Today, we’re diving into a nugget of wisdom straight from the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, a true icon of jazz music. In the DVD “A Night in Havana,” Dizzy shares a simple yet profoundly effective tip that can transform the way you approach improvisation.  The clip is at 1:02:28 in the video which is on YouTube.


What do you feel inside when you start improvising in jazz music?


“The first thing you must have is a picture of what you’re supposed to do. (He referring to the chordal structure or harmony of the tune).

Then, I have the rhythm that I want to portray with this harmony, and then I put the notes of the harmony with the rhythm. I’m a rhythm man.”

I have never heard an approach to improvising that was so simple, direct, and effective!  To summarize: memorize the changes, then think/feel rhythmically.


Memorize the Changes

Memorizing the chord changes is crucial. This lays the foundation for your improvisation journey. Whether you’re playing a jazz standard, a blues progression, or any other genre, having a solid grasp of the chord progression allows you to navigate through the song with confidence and creativity.


Think Rhythmically

Here’s where Dizzy’s genius shines through: he emphasizes the importance of rhythm in improvisation. He suggests envisioning the rhythm you want to convey with the harmony before even thinking about the notes. It’s like creating a rhythmic blueprint for your improvisation. By focusing on rhythm first, you infuse your improvisation with groove, energy, and dynamics. The rhythm becomes the driving force that shapes your musical narrative. It sets the stage for the notes you’ll play, adding a layer of intention and emotion to your performance.


A Universal Approach for All Musicians

Dizzy’s process is beautifully intuitive. Once you have the rhythm of your improvisation mapped out, you can seamlessly integrate the harmony and notes. This step-by-step approach ensures that your improvisation not only follows the chord changes but also dances to a rhythmic beat that captures the essence of the music.

The brilliance of Dizzy’s technique lies in its universality. Whether you’re a saxophonist, guitarist, pianist, or play any other instrument, this approach is applicable. And it’s not limited to jazz either. The rhythm-centric method works wonders across various genres, infusing your playing with a sense of vitality and authenticity.


Unlock Your Inner “Rhythm Man”

Dizzy Gillespie’s declaring himself a “rhythm man,” and his philosophy resonates strongly with his unique, infectious style. By adopting this approach, you, too, can tap into your inner rhythm virtuoso. You’ll find yourself crafting improvisations that groove, captivate, and resonate deeply with your audience.  Whether you’re a seasoned improviser or just beginning your journey, this rhythmic technique is your key to unlocking the magic of improvisation.

Here’s to channeling your inner rhythm and creating musical moments that groove, captivate, and inspire!


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