Jazz / Quotes

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~+Jazz > Quotes +~
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This page is not as deadly serious as the other Jazz resources found on this wiki. In fact, this page is the Jazz relaxing section, where tired and busy Jazz editors come to read funny quotes, enlightening quotes, sad quotes, hilarious quotes...

While some of these quotes may be interesting in themselves for people without any jazz knowledge, it's probable that most of them can't be fully appreciated without at least an idea of who was what.

To enter this page, a quote must match the following:

  • the author of the quote must be a Jazz artist present in MusicBrainz
  • there shouldn't be too much doubts about the quote and/or its author
  • the quote may talk about jazz, but other subjects are fine too: cats, life, stuff
  • the quote may link to a maximum number of other stuff (be they other artists, releases, wiki pages, ...)
  • there may be exceptions to any of the above points
  • the quote must be somewhat exceptionally interesting (this page doesn't want to be exhaustive, but selective)

Note that there already are thousands of similar projects on the web (including the excellent page at All About Jazz). So, you may think: what's the point? To which I answer: we are the one-stop-all-about-music resource, hence we need *our* Jazz Quotes page :)


What's jazz after all?

  • "Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."
  • "Life is a lot like jazz... it’s best when you improvise..."
  • "I don't have a definition of jazz... You're just supposed to know it when you hear it."
  • "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny."
  • "Good jazz is when the leader jumps on the piano, waves his arms, and yells. Fine jazz is when a tenorman lifts his foot in the air. Great jazz is when he heaves a piercing note for 32 bars and collapses on his hands and knees. A pure genius of jazz is manifested when he and the rest of the orchestra runaround the room while the rhythm section grimaces and dances around their instruments."
  • "Boxing is like jazz, the better it is, the less people appreciate it."
  • --- [George Foreman]
  • "[Jazz singing] is like pornography. You can't say what it is, but you know it when you see it."
  • "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."
  • "Jazz is a music made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions."
  • "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."
  • "Jazz is an intensified feeling of nonchalance."
  • --- [Françoise Sagan] (french novelist known for her nonchalant attitude toward life :) )

And what's not?

  • "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
  • --- Decca Records usual genius business ideas and prophetic conceptions (gentle response to The Beatles, 1962)
  • "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind."
  • "I dont want to sound immodest, but what musicians like myself play is Ph.D. music compared to the nursery-school sounds of a lot of rock and roll. They've got to grow out of it... You can only maintain that stance so long - unless, in musical terms, you're retarded."

Jazzmen bragging about jazzmen

  • "Man, that cat is nuts"
  • "Sunny Murray is the only drummer who ever played the Theory of Relativity"
  • --- Alan Silva, definitely better musician than space rocket engineer
  • "Trane was the father. Pharoah was the son. I was the holy ghost."
  • --- Albert Ayler, obviously sniffing too much the holy stuff again
  • "[[[Artist:0d74dcc7-5684-4695-830f-a9846aad8ba9|Wynton Marsalis]]] is jazzy the same way someone who drives a BMW is sporty."
  • "Coltrane, you can't play everything at once!"
  • "I made the tenor sax. Nobody plays like me and I don't play like anybody else."
  • "I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini."
  • "Wes Montgomery played impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible."
  • --- [Ronnie Scott]
  • "The outer space beings are my brothers. They sent me here. They already know my music."

Technicality and stuff

  • "Wrong is right."
  • "By the Be-bop era, jazz drumming had become as technically demanding as trying to undo a four-hook bra strap while driving a stick-shift."
  • "I never practice my guitar... from time to time I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat."
  • "There is no such thing as a wrong note."
  • --- Art Tatum, not only blind, but apparently deaf also
  • "Hipness is not a state of mind, It's a fact of life!"
  • "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."
  • "As the Avant Guarde movement tore down every wall of the old establishment, only one rule that had stood from the very inception of jazz remained: no accordions."
  • "No baritone player should be afraid of the noise it makes. Harry Carney isn't!"
  • "If you're going to make a mistake, make it loud so everybody else sounds wrong"
  • "It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself."
  • "Silence also swings."
  • --- [John "I hear voices" Mehegan]
  • "It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."
  • "Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing."
  • "I'm into scales right now."


  • "What's interesting about a person without problems?"
  • "If I'd known I was going to live to be a hundred I'd have taken much better care of myself."
  • "Opinions are like assholes... everyone’s got one."
  • "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be."
  • "Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise. My children! You do what you want with your own!"
  • "This is so nice, it must be illegal."
  • "The light of the future casts the shadows of tomorrow."
  • --- Vote Sun Ra now to prevent him being president in the past

Touring and bands

  • "Traveling with a big band is like being an inmate in a traveling zoo."
  • "I wonder what an agent would do if he had to travel with the band he's booking."
  • "Women and rhythm-section first!"
  • "Trumpets! Can you bring your... uh... extracurricular tubing necessities next rehearsal?"
  • --- [Warren Sneed], possibly speaking about brass mutes :p
  • "I'm all in favor of getting grants for musicians. Or any other good brand of Scotch."

Audience, public, fans

  • "No matter how carefully and assiduously and how deeply you bury shit, the American public will find it and buy it in large quantity. It’s true, absolutely true."
  • "Tastes are created by the business interests. How else can you explain the popularity of Al Hirt?"
  • "Most customers, by the time the musicians reach the second set, are to some extent inebriated. They don’t care what you play anyway."
  • "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."
  • "I'm famous. Ain't that a bitch?"
  • "In Europe, they like everything you do. The mistakes and everything. That's a little bit too much."

Retirement and death

  • "Retire to what?"
  • "I never heard of a jazz musician who retired. You love what you do, so what are you going to do? Play for the walls?"
  • "When I die, I want them to play The Black and Crazy Blues, I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me and hope they got something out of it."
  • "Well, I'm too old to pimp, and too young to die, so I'm just gonna keep playin'"
  • "When you're dead, you're done."