In Praise of Never Being Good Enough

“The instrument is always the boss. I don’t care how much you play on the instrument, it always surpasses what you can do on it. Even if you live to be a thousand years old, you still find yourself behind. The best way to fight it is to practice at every opportunity.”

Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie, 2 December 1955, potrait
Dizzy Gillespie, 2 December 1955, potrait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music is endless, and there’s always more to practice, more to learn, more to do. The limitlessness can be intimidating, especially to beginners, or to those stuck in the “conscious incompetence” phase (one of four phases of musicianship/practice described in The Practice of Practice). But once you realize the fact, and make peace with it, having endless horizons to explore is liberating. Exciting, even. Then you just have to get started.

And keep going. World-famous cellist Pablo Casals, when an interviewer asked why–at age 90–he still practiced, Casals said, “I think I’m making progress.”

One way to make progress is short bursts of practice. As a kid, Dizzy was known to carry his horn with him everywhere he went. Jimi Hendrix took his axe everywhere, too, including his bed (he slept with it), and in the bathroom.

A great way to get in a quick burst of practice is to always have your instrument nearby. Quit wasting time online (well, except for this blog, right?), and get in a two-minute burst of practice.

In The Practice of Practice I call it “Guerrilla Practice.” Learn the details (and dozens more techniques for getting better faster) in The Practice of Practice.

Here are a few of my favorite clips of the Master in action.

An astounding 35 minutes from 1966.


Introduction by Humphrey Lyttelton
And Then She Stopped, 2:05
Tin Tin Deo, 7:23
Mmm Hmm, 16:10
No More Blues (Chega de Saudade), 21:20
Dizzy’s Blues, 32:55

Personnel: Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, vocal; James Moody, tenor sax, alto sax, flute; Kenny Barron, piano; Chris White, acoustic double bass; Rudy Collins, drums.


Check out Dizzy’s improv at 3:30

Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Barney Wilen, Stan Getz, tenor sax; Andy Laverne, piano; Rodney Jones, guitar; Mike Richmond, acoustic double bass; Mickey Roker, Billy Hart, drums, percussion at the Grand Parade du Jazz, Nice, July 14, 1978.
On the second segement Dizzy is accompanied by Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, J.C. Heard


Dizzy Gillespie leads a powerful all-star sextet including Jon Faddis (also playing a similar upswept trumpet), vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, pianist Monty Alexander, and drummerJimmie Smith in this appearance at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival, most of which was issued on the Pablo album Montreux ’77.


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