Great Quotes

Here are some great quotes for and about jazz musicians.

Ahmad Jamal – “You don’t create things, you discover things.”

Robertson Davies – Music is like wine, the less you know about it the sweeter you like it. 

Bill Dobbins .. we seldom suffer from taking our subject of study too seriously, but we usually suffer when we take ourselves too seriously.

Bradford Marsalis – “My first task is to help students reject 18 years of poor learning that teaches them that knowledge is a product rather than a process.”

Benny Green – “A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges.”

Hank Jones – When you listen to a pianist, each notes should have an identity, each note should have a soul of its own.

Bill Evans – “To the person who uses music as a medium for the expression of ideas, feelings, images, or what have you; anything which facilitates this expression is properly his instrument.”

“Perhaps it is a peculiarity of mine that despite the fact that I am a professional performer, it is true that I have always preferred playing without an audience.”

“First of all, I never strive for identity. That’s something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way, and somehow I guess the individual comes through eventually.”

“My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise . . . a part of yourself you never knew existed.”

“I believe in things that are developed through hard work. I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually a much deeper and more beautiful thing than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning. I say this because it’s a good message to give to young talents who feel as I used to.”

“A guy is influenced by hundreds of people and things, and all show up in his work. To fasten on any one or two is ridiculous. I will say one thing, though. Lennie Tristano’s early records impressed me tremendously. Tunes like ‘Tautology,’ ‘Marshmallow,’ and ‘Fishin’ Around.’ I heard the fellows in his group building their lines with a design and general structure that was different from anything I’d ever heard in jazz.”

“Technique is the ability to translate your ideas into sound through your instrument. This is a comprehensive technique . . . a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it. What has to happen is that you develop a comprehensive technique and then say, forget that. I’m just going to be expressive through the piano.”

“When you begin to teach jazz, the most dangerous thing is that you tend to teach style…I had eleven piano students, and I would say eight of them didn’t even want to know about chords or anything – they didn’t even want to do anything that anybody had ever done, because they didn’t want to be imitators. Well, of course, this is pretty naive…but nevertheless it does bring to light the fact that if you’re going to try to teach jazz…you must abstract the principles of music which have nothing to do with style, and this is exceedingly difficult. So there, the teaching of jazz is a very touchy point. It ends up where the jazz player, ultimately, if he’s going to be a serious jazz player, teaches himself.”

“It’s performing without any really set basis for the lines and the content as such emotionally or, specifically, musically. And if you sit down and contemplate what you’re going to do, and take five hours to write five minutes of music, then it’s composed music. Therefore I would put it in the classical or serious, whatever you want to call it, written-music category. So there’s composed music and there’s jazz. And to me anybody that makes music using the process that we are using in Jazz, is playing Jazz.”

“I’m using the insides of sounds to move around in a very subtle way which, I think, ends up being inevitable. I feel its the only solution to that particular problem that I presented myself.”

“Especially, I want my work–and the trios if possible–to sing.”

“It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It’s not. It’s feeling.”

“I’m believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a ‘universal musical mind.’”

“I’m . . . a rather simple person with a limited talent and perhaps a limited perspective.”

Cannonball Adderley
“A young tenor player was complaining to me that Coleman Hawkins made him nervous. Man, I told him Hawkins was supposed to make him nervous! Hawkins has been making other sax players nervous for forty years!”

Charlie Parker
“Master your instrument, Master the music, and then forget all that bullshit and just play.”

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Clare Fischer – He (Fischer) learned that in the studio producers are often a musician’s worst enemy. “They always want you to do something else than what you are good at. Often I was asked to play like Joe Sample. With great difficulty I did what they asked me to do and felt terrible about it. One time I was working in the studio with Sample himself. During a break he came up to me and said to my great surprise, ‘I want to tell you something that really bugs me. Every time I go into a recording session they ask me to lay down some of that shit that you do!’”  laughed Fischer.

David Dean
“Practice makes perfect, and nobody’s perfect, so why practice?”

Dizzy Gillespie
“How do I know why Miles walks off the stage? Why don’t you ask him? And besides, maybe we’d all like to be like Miles, and just haven’t got the guts.”

“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.”

Duke Ellington
“I’m sure critics have their purpose, and they’re supposed to do what they do, but sometimes they get a little carried away with what they think someone should have done, rather than concerning themselves with what he did.”

“Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.”

I never had much interest in the piano until I realized that every time I played, a girl would appear on the piano bench to my left and another to my right.”

“A goal is a dream with a finish line.”

“If it sounds good and feels good, then it IS good!”

“Music is my mistress and she plays second fiddle to no one.”

“There is no art without intention.”

“By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”

“There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

Charles Mingus
“Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

Art Tatum
“There is no such thing as a wrong note.”

“You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!”

“The English pianist Alan Clare was once intrigued with a workman who was carrying out some remodeling inside his house. Clare was playing some recordings, and he began to notice that the workman was whistling along with whatever music he put on – Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, it didn’t seem to matter. Even if he hadn’t heard it before, he had the natural musical ability to follow a melody closely and almost automatically. Clare decided to give him a real test and dug up his recording of Art Tatum doing “Tea For Two”, with the ground-breaking chord changes Tatum introduced into the tune. The workman never lost a beat nor did he lay out for a bar or two to figure out what was going on. He tracked Tatum flawlessly through all his changes, and when the record ended, he spoke for the first time. He glanced at Clare and with classic English understatement said, ‘Tricky f**ker, ain’t he?'”

Art Blakey (On the word “jazz.”) “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s only a word. What’s in a name? Nothing! Cats say, “Call me Muhammed so-and-so.” But what’s the difference? A name doesn’t make the music. It’s just called that to differentiate it from other types of music. Jazz is known all over the world as an American musical art form and that’s it. No America, no jazz. I’ve seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa.”

Max Roach In classical music, only two people are important, the composer and the conductor. Everybody else is a serf. In jazz, a thing of beauty is created collectively with everybody getting to express an idea. And that reflects what democratic society is — or should be.

George Russell — and incidentally, I am not self-taught. Everybody who has given me a moment of beauty, significance or excitement has been a teacher.

Paul Desmond
“I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.”

“I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.”

“I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.”

“I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.”

Stan Getz
“There are four qualities essential to a great jazzman. They are taste, courage, individuality, and irreverence. These are the qualities I want to retain in my music.”

“The saxophone is actually a translation of the human voice, in my conception. All you can do is play melody. No matter how complicated it gets, it’s still a melody.”

“It’s like a language. You learn the alphabet, which are the scales. You learn sentences, which are the chords. And then you talk extemporaneously with the horn. It’s a wonderful thing to speak extemporaneously, which is something I’ve never gotten the hang of. But musically I love to talk just off the top of my head. And that’s what jazz music is all about.”

“My life is music, and in some vague, mysterious and subconscious way, I have always been driven by a taut inner spring which has propelled me to almost compulsively reach for perfection in music, often—in fact, mostly—at the expense of everything else in my life.”

Steve Lacy
“In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.”

Gregor Piatigorsky
As a young cellist I had played to an audience that had included Pablo Casals and reacted with poor, nervous playing. Casals sought me out after the concert and praised me highly, somewhat easing the pain and thinking him a very kind man.

     Years later I again ran into Casals and thanked him for being kind to a very nervous kid. Angry, he rushed to the cello. “Listen!” He played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? It was novel to me. It was good. And here, didn’t you attack that passage with an upbow, like this?” He went through Schumann and Bach, emphasizing all he liked that I had done.
     “And for the rest,” he said passionately, “leave it to the ignorant and stupid, who judge by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”
     I left with the feeling of having been with a great artist and friend.

Pablo Casals, when asked at the age of 93 why he continued to practice hours each day, said “‘I’m beginning to notice some improvement…” 

An Anthropology of Everyday Life – Edward T. Hall
Good jazz is informal; church music is, as a rule, formal; symphonies are technical. Each is taught and learned in its own way. Formal learning shouts to the treetops that what is being learned is serious business. Technical learning is precise and linear. Informal learning in nonlinear, cooperative, and not controlled by anyone except the group; it is an organic, inside-out process

Dudley Moore on the sensuality of Errol Garner’s music —- (He has) a smooth undulating arm that floats and caresses sweetly above a gently pulsating bass.

Eddie Condon
“The boppers flat their fifths. We consume ours.”

“Finally Beiderbecke took out a silver cornet. He put it to his lips and blew a phrase. The sound came out like a girl saying ‘yes.’”

Oscar Peterson
“It’s the group sound that’s important, even when you’re playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That’s jazz.”

“Some people try to get very philosophical and cerebral about what they’re trying to say with jazz. You don’t need any prologues, you just play. If you have something to say of any worth then people will listen to you.”

“I don’t believe that a lot of the things I hear on the air today are going to be played for as long a time as Coleman Hawkins records or Brahms concertos.”

“Too many jazz pianists limit themselves to a personal style, a trademark, so to speak. They confine themselves to one type of playing. I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. I have no one style. I play as I feel.”

“We’re not like pop musicians who have to perform the same top ten tunes every night of a tour.”

“Montreal was a very active jazz center until club owners started putting in strippers instead of music. Before long, there was nothing to hear.”

“I don’t do something because I think it will sell 30 million albums. I couldn’t care less. If it sells one, it sells one.”

John Coltrane
“Sometimes I’d think I was making music through the wrong end of a magnifying glass.”

Miles Davis
“You can’t play nothing on modern trumpet that doesn’t come from him, not even modern shit. I can’t even remember a time when he sounded bad playing the trumpet. Never. Not even one time. He had great feeling up in his playing and he always played on the beat. I just loved the way he played and sang. (On Louis Armstrong)”

“I don’t like to hear someone put down Dixieland. Those people who say there’s no music but bop are just stupid; it shows how much they don’t know.”

“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is afterwards.”

“In Europe, they like everything you do. The mistakes and everything. That’s a little bit too much.”

“Nothing is out of the question for me. I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up in the morning and see the light…Then I’m grateful.”

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”

Louis Armstrong
“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.”

“Making money ain’t nothing exciting to me. You might be able to buy a little better booze than the wino on the corner. But you get sick just like the next cat and when you die you’re just as graveyard dead as he is.”

“The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago.”

Ornette Coleman
“Musicians tell me, if what I’m doing is right, they should never have gone to school.”

“We in the Western world suffer from too many categories and classes; we’ve forgotten that we all still have diapers on. We’ve separated music from life.”

“Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.”