Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma: Analysis of Jazz Covers

Exccerpt of Con Alma sheet music by Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie‘s “Con Alma” is a masterpiece of Latin-infused jazz, captivating musicians and listeners alike since its 1954 release.

Its intricate harmonies and soulful melody have inspired countless covers over the decades. In this blog post, we’ll delve into some of the most remarkable interpretations of “Con Alma,” from the iconic Stan Getz rendition to thrilling modern takes by the likes of Gerald Clayton, Aaron Parks, and Ben Wendel.

Let’s explore how “Con Alma” transcends time periods and styles, proving the enduring power of a great melody.

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”, Afro (1954)

Dizzy Gillespie‘s “Con Alma” emerged as a highlight of his iconic 1954 album, Afro – a record that birthed classics like “Manteca,” “Caravan,” and “Night in Tunisia.” Gillespie’s fiery trumpet blazes atop a rich foundation laid by Rene Hernandez (piano), Roberto Rodriguez (bass), and the rhythmic tapestry woven by Jose Mangual, Ubaldo Nieto, and Ralph Miranda on percussion.

The tune kicks off with bass and piano locking into a hypnotic groove, layered with vibrant percussion. Dizzy’s trumpet enters the scene, singing the melody over that irresistible descending bassline. That signature trumpet swell? Pure magic!

Dizzy launches into a solo, effortlessly melding with the relaxed, sultry pulse established by the rhythm section. There’s a delightful nonchalance to it, punctuated by those brilliant, cascading lines he weaves in. Hernandez takes the baton for a beautiful piano solo, mirroring the track’s laid-back vibe with finesse.

Dizzy’s trumpet reclaims the spotlight, injecting the solo with a bit more heat. Yet, even so, the percussion and bass hold steady on that intoxicating groove. The head returns, bringing the tune full circle.

It leaves you hungry for more – those stellar solos, that infectious groove that could spin on into eternity… If we’re being critical, the percussion feels a touch rigid. But let’s be honest, Dizzy’s fiery trumpet and Hernandez’s elegant piano make this an unforgettable slice of jazz history.

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band’s “Con Alma”, Live Concert in Copenhagen (1968)

Dizzy‘s “Con Alma” got a bold makeover in 1968, fourteen years after its debut. This time, he unleashed it with his big band, featuring heavyweights like James Moody (sax), Jimmy Owens (flugelhorn), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Michael Longo (piano), Paul West (bass), and Candy Finch (drums).

This rendition kicks off with drums, bass, and piano, mirroring the percussive feel of the original Afro cut. The horns blast in with punchy brass stabs, setting the stage before the head emerges, led by Gillespie’s trumpet.

The melody shifts to the brawny horn section, then swings back to Gillespie. Enter James Moody, delivering a quintessential bop sax solo – a whirlwind of notes cascading over those chord changes, backed by driving rhythms and horn accents.

Moody’s fiery solo bows out, replaced by a horn fanfare and a more subdued – yet equally virtuosic – piano solo full of dazzling right-hand flourishes.

It’s Gillespie’s turn. His initial lines feel a touch tentative, but he quickly finds his footing, weaving delicate lyricism as the drumming shifts to a gentle ride cymbal pulse.

Gillespie conquers the high notes, the horns adding punchy accents behind his solo. His improvisation winds down, transitioning into a tightly composed horn section. They revisit the head’s backing motif, while Gillespie throws in a touch of melodic freedom.

The fanfare returns, followed by a drum break that paves the way for a big band explosion. They revisit the head with classic flourishes – brassy jabs and punchy drum breaks.

The core melody re-emerges, a callback to the tune’s roots. A groovy piano line shimmers in the background before the grand, brassy finale.

This arrangement is fascinating – the stellar sax, piano, and trumpet solos intermingling with the bombastic big band sound so characteristic of its era. If you’re a fan of that classic big band energy, this is a must-listen!

Stan Getz’ “Con Alma”, Sweet Rain (1967)

Stan Getz‘s 1967 Sweet Rain album features a legendary reimagining of “Con Alma.” His signature smooth saxophone tone finds its perfect match in Chick Corea‘s piano, Ron Carter‘s steady bassline, and Grady Tate‘s dynamic drumming.

Tate’s drumming is a hidden gem here. Notice how he shifts the mood seamlessly – from a gentle pulse under Getz’s melody to driving swing during solos, then almost minimalist behind Carter’s bass feature. Corea’s piano is a marvel in itself, a soulful conversation with Getz’s saxophone.

And that surprise bombastic ending? Vintage Getz – adding a touch of unexpected drama to a classic. This version of “Con Alma” is a testament to both its timeless melody and the brilliance of these iconic musicians.

OAM Trio’s “Con Alma”, Flow (2000)

OAM Trio (Omer Avital, Aaron Goldberg, Marc Miralta) put their unique stamp on “Con Alma” in their 2000 album Flow. They open with a smoky, spacious vibe – Miralta’s subtle percussion, Goldberg’s atmospheric chords, and Avital’s melodic bass solo. Notice the rhythmic bassline that emerges – it becomes the anchor for their unorthodox take on the head.

Goldberg’s piano solo is pure improvisation over that infectious groove. It builds beautifully, culminating in those cascading lines. Their second take on the head is even more daring, full of composed parts and unison lines between piano and bass.

Avital’s bowed bass solo is a sonic adventure, venturing far from Dizzy’s original. It all resolves with that evocative piano chord – such a dynamic journey! OAM Trio seamlessly blend styles, injecting fresh energy and intricacy into this standard. Their composed elements are particularly striking.

Bonus: Seek out Aaron Goldberg’s take on “Con Alma” with Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers on his “Turning Point” album. It offers yet another fascinating perspective on this timeless tune.

Spike Wilner’s “Con Alma”, Three to Go (2009)

Spike Wilner‘s 2009 Three to Go album features a vibrant “Con Alma” arrangement enhanced by Ryan Kisor (trumpet) and Joel Frahm (sax). Wilner opens with dramatic piano chords, joined by the rhythm section. Notice how the horns gradually swell into the mix, leading the melody with a powerful, triumphant feel.

Wilner’s piano solo sparkles with rapid arpeggios, showcasing his dexterity while staying true to the melody. Kisor takes over with a fiery trumpet solo, propelled by the dynamic rhythm section. He throws down some killer lines, adding a touch of grit to the track’s grandeur.

Frahm’s sax solo offers a change of pace. The rhythm section creates space for him to build his improvisation thoughtfully. Like Kisor, he returns to the core “Con Alma” melody, adding soulful embellishments.

The finale is a highlight: sax and trumpet unite, mirroring the intro’s power. Wilner improvises playfully behind them, then takes the spotlight with joyous piano lines. Coleman’s crashing drums underscore the horns’ ascending melody, creating a thrilling conclusion. This version is a perfect blend of grand energy and individual brilliance.

Gerald Clayton’s “Con Alma”, Live Concert at the New Morning (2010)

Gerald Clayton breathes new life into “Con Alma.” His 2009 album Two-Shade offers a stunning solo piano version. For a trio take, check out his 2010 live performance at the New Morning in Paris (around the 9:15 mark).

Clayton’s intro is pure artistry, setting the stage before the rhythm section joins. His delicate touch on the melody, backed by brushed drums and Joe Sanders‘ soulful bassline, is simply captivating.

His piano solo is a conversation with Sanders’ bass. They playfully weave the “Con Alma” theme throughout the improvisation, keeping the melody central even during adventurous passages. Around 14:00, the trio shifts into high gear – Justin Brown‘s driving drums meet Sanders’s propulsive walking bass.

Clayton surprises us with a composed interlude around 15:10, hinting at classical influences amidst the swing. The rhythmic drop-out that follows is masterful, enhancing the impact when the band returns in full force.

Don’t miss Sanders’s outro on bowed bass – that descending run at 16:50 is pure magic! This performance showcases Clayton’s brilliant arranging skill and the trio’s dynamic interplay. His respect for Gillespie’s melody shines through, even in his most daring explorations.

Great playing from everyone here, and a great arrangement of “Con Alma” from Gerald Clayton. Clayton has done this tune solo on Two-Shade, and has also done a fine duet version with saxophonist Ben Wendel, always doing well by Gillespie’s melody. Seek out that duet for another fascinating perspective on this timeless tune!

Ulysses Owens Jr.’s “Con Alma”, Unanimous (2012)

Ulysses Owens Jr.‘s 2012 Unanimous album adds a big band spin to “Con Alma.” Owens kicks things off with a spirited drum intro, followed by a powerful horn fanfare. The three-horn arrangement of the melody has a polished, classic feel.

Michael Dease‘s trombone solo shines, with some daring high notes. Nicholas Payton‘s trumpet solo brings a different energy, fueled by the rhythm section’s increased intensity. Notice how he plays with those sustained notes, bending them against the shifting harmonies for a unique effect.

Christian Sands delivers a swinging piano solo, but its impact is lessened by the return of the horns playing the head verbatim. The grand fanfare ending reinforces the polished, traditional feel.

While there’s solid musicianship throughout, especially Payton’s standout solo, this “Con Alma” rendition craves a touch more spontaneity and individual expression – the very essence of ‘alma’.

Aaron Parks’ “Con Alma”, Alive in Japan (2013)

Aaron ParksAlive in Japan (2013) offers a refreshingly unconventional take on “Con Alma.” Forget the familiar melody – his abstract solo piano intro teases the listener, hinting at the theme before a hint of chords and drums emerge.

Finally, the trio swings into the head, Parks’ vocalizations adding a touch of intimacy. Notice Thomas Morgan‘s tasteful bass accompaniment – those lines between piano phrases are a gem. Parks’ relaxed piano solo follows, full of melodic phrases and a spacious feel.

Morgan’s bass solo showcases his own melodic sensibilities. The minimalist accompaniment, with light cymbals and sparse piano chords, is a perfect canvas. He transitions to a walking bassline, briefly disrupted by ominous piano chords before returning to the laid-back vibe.

They effortlessly revisit the head, Morgan’s descending bass lines complementing Parks’ piano. The brief Latin-flavored outro surprises with a final twist before the ending. This “Con Alma” is a journey of subtle textures and playful experimentation.

Tootie Heath’s “Con Alma”, Philadelphia Beat (2015)

Tootie Heath‘s Philadelphia Beat album offers a distinctive take on “Con Alma”. Heath’s Latin-inspired intro sets the stage for Ethan Iverson‘s piano and Ben Street‘s bass. Iverson’s chords lend a stately, even classical air to the melody.

A recurring ‘spooky’ interlude adds an unexpected twist. Iverson’s piano solo unfolds over Heath’s steady beat and Street’s superb basswork. That haunting motif returns throughout, becoming a signature element of this arrangement.

The closing section revisits those classical-infused chords, creating a sense of symmetry. Iverson’s melodic solo shines throughout.

The ‘spooky’ motif and Heath’s drumming, reminiscent of Gillespie’s original percussion, set this version apart. It’s a fascinating blend of classicism, playful eeriness, and a respect for the core melody.


“Con Alma” may be Dizzy Gillespie‘s masterpiece, but its true legacy lies in the hands of the countless musicians who’ve reimagined it. These interpretations are a testament to the melody’s enduring power and the boundless creativity it inspires.

Think of these examples as your starting point. Iconic artists like Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, and Wes Montgomery have all put their unique spin on “Con Alma”. With a quick search on YouTube, Spotify, or your favorite music platform, you’ll uncover a treasure trove of interpretations.

From the original’s slightly rigid rhythm to the relaxed vibes of Stan Getz, from the adventurous OAM trio to Clayton and Heath‘s classical touch, and the joyous energy of Spike Wilner‘s quintet – the journey of “Con Alma” is far from over. So dive in, explore, and keep listening!

You Might Also Like

Best Jazz Albums of All Time

Banner with Best Jazz Albums of All Time text and photo of a record collection

Jazz is a culturally rich music that has evolved tremendously over the last century, from jazz big bands to bebop, from hard bop to free jazz, and so much more.

So our list of the Best Jazz Albums of All Time aims in no way, shape, or form to be definitive and all-encompassing. We simply hope it will provide some avenues of exploration for you to fall in love with the vibrant contemporary art form that is jazz music!

So read on and discover some of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded by icons, the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Robert Glasper, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis and more!!

Best Jazz Clubs in NYC: The Definitive Guide

Best Jazz Clubs in NYC

New York City is a mecca for jazz enthusiasts, boasting an impressive array of world-class jazz clubs.

From historic venues that have hosted legends like John Coltrane and Miles Davis to cutting-edge clubs showcasing today’s most innovative young artists, NYC offers something for every jazz fan.

Check out our list of Best Jazz Clubs in NYC, where we explore the top jazz clubs in NYC, taking you on a tour of the rich history, vibrant present, and promising future of the New York jazz scene.


What does Con Alma mean?

“Con Alma” is Spanish for “With Soul”.

Is Con Alma AABA form?

“Con Alma” is a composition by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie which utilizes the basic 32-bar A-A-B-A jazz song format.