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Quotes

What to play
It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play.
-Dizzy Gillespie-
If it sounds good, it IS good.
--Duke Ellington
It's not the mistakes that count, it's what you do after them that counts.
-Thelonious Monk-
There are no wrong notes on the piano, just better choices.
--Thelonious Monk

I played the wrong, wrong notes.
--Thelonious Monk
Just remember there is no such thing as a wrong note; what makes it wrong is when you don't know where to go after that one.
--Art Tatum
I made the wrong mistakes
--Thelonious Monk
If you don't make mistakes, you aren't really trying.
--Coleman Hawkins
Way back, musicians used to say he played weird, funny notes.  They weren't funny or weird then, and they're not now.  He makes them the right notes.
--Coleman Hawkins on Pee Wee Russell
Well, if you find a note tonight that sounds good, play the same damn note every night!
--Count Basie
You might try taking the horn out of your mouth.
- Miles Davis, after John Coltrane said he found it difficult to play short solos
I am an improviser...I improvise music. Whatever you want to call it all, it is all improvised music. I may capture it and go back and write it down for others, but it was originally improvised.
--Joe Zawinul
You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!
--Art Tatum

Improvisation is too good to leave to chance.
--Paul Simon

After I left Texas and went to California, I had a hard time getting anyone to play anything that I was writing, so I had to end up playing them myself. And that's how I ended up just being a saxophone player.
--Ornette Coleman
Don't play what's there, play what's not there
--Miles Davis
You're supposed to inspire the soloist.
--Dizzy Gillespie to drummer, Teddy Stewart
Have you ever thought that the soloist is supposed to inspire me?
--Stewart in reply
I've taken stuff from people, too. You know though, if you steal from one person, you're just a thief. But if you steal from everyone, that's research.
--Tony Bennett
I haven't had any particular direction in my music. I just do it the way I feel it at the time.
--Johnny Cash
Some of the old songs I sing often, because they help me to reflect on where I've been and that's important for me to do - so I don't lose track of where I am going.
--Johnny Cash
The music has gotten thick. Guys give me tunes and they're full of chords. I can't play them?I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.
--Miles Davis
I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.
--Duke Ellington
My biggest kick in music -- playing or writing -- is when I have a problem. Without a problem to solve, how much interest do you take in anything?
--Duke Ellington
The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.
--Duke Ellington
You've got to find some way of saying it without saying it.
--Duke Ellington
Look, you come in here tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I?ll do with my left.
--Art Tatum to Bud Powell
Most of the soloists at Birdland had to wait for Parker?s next record in order to find out what to play next. What will they do now?
--Charles Mingus on Charlie Parker's death
How to Play
It's the way you play that makes it . . . Play like you play. Play like you think, and then you got it, if you're going to get it. And whatever you get, that's you, so that's your story.
--Count Basie
Some days you get up and put the horn to your chops and it sounds pretty good and you win. Some days you try and nothing works and the horn wins. This goes on and on and then you die and the horn wins
--Dizzy Gillespie
You pick up the horn, put it to your chops and the son of a bitch says: Screw You
--Roy Eldridge
I like any and all of my associations with music -- writing, playing, and listening. We write and play from our perspective, and the audience listens from its perspective. If and when we agree, I am lucky.
--Duke Ellington
A piece of music is alive.  It's a misnomer to limit yourself by saying it has a beginning and an end... Benny Golson has re-written "I Remember Clifford" many times.  I've played it with him over the years in all its different forms... Wayne Shorter says a piece of music never ends.
--Buster Williams
You take each solo like it was the last one you were going to play in your life.  Sometimes I jump the right chord and use what seems wrong to the next guy, but I kow it is right for me.  I usually think about four bars ahead what I am going to play.  Sometimes things go wrong and I have to scramble, but if I can make it to the bridge of the tune, I know everything will be alright.
--Pee Wee Russell
In lots of cases, the solo depends on who you're following.  The guy played a great chorus ... how am I going to follow that? ... What the hell? I'll try something new.  All this goes through your mind in a split second.  You start and if it sounds good to you, you keep it up and write a little tune of your own.
--Pee Wee Russell
The better the singer's voice is, the harder it is to believe what they're saying. So I turn my weaknesses into strengths.
--David Byrne
My driving philosophy about making music is that you can reduce it all down to one note if that note is played with the right kind of sincerity.
--Eric Clapton
I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.
--Paul Desmond
I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.
--Paul Desmond
I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.
--Paul Desmond
I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.
--Paul Desmond
Practice makes perfect, and nobody's perfect, so why practice?
--David Dean
Playing "Bop" is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.
--Duke Ellington
'Swing' is an adjective or a verb, not a noun. All jazz musicians should swing. There is no such thing as a 'swing band' in music.
--Artie Shaw
I can't stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, then it ain't music, it's close order drill, or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.
--Billie Holiday
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.
--Charles Mingus
I kept thinking theres bound to be something else... I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn't play it.
--Charlie Parker
The disgusting stink of a too loud electric guitar; now that's my idea of a good time.
--Frank Zappa
What is Jazz?
Jazz is like writing. It can be learned, but it can't be taught.
--Paul Desmond
At this time the fashion is to bring something to jazz that I reject. They speak of freedom. But one has no right, under pretext of freeing yourself, to be illogical and incoherent by getting rid of structure and simply piling a lot of notes one on top of the other. There?s no beat anymore. You can't keep time with your foot. I believe that what is happening to jazz with people like Ornette Coleman, for instance, is bad. There's a new idea that consists in destroying everything and find what's shocking and unexpected; whereas jazz must first of all tell a story that anyone can understand.
--Thelonious Monk

Now, can you tell me a story?
--Lester Young (after listening to a pyrotechnic display by a young hotdog saxophonist)
You've got to dig to dig it, you dig?
--Thelonious Monk
It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling
--Bill Evans
Are big bands coming back? Sure, every football season.
-Woody Herman
By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with.
--Duke Ellington
If you have to ask, you'll never know."
--Louis Armstrong when asked to define the rhythmic concept of "swing"
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.
--Art Blakey
Jazz is like blues with a shot of heroin
--Miles Davis
It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It?s not. It's feeling.
--Bill Evans



On Music
There's two kinds of music: good and bad. I like both.
--Duke Ellington
Music is the space between the notes.
-- Claude Debussy
Music is motion in time.
--Felix Salzer
"Musica est exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi."
(Music is a hidden arithmetic exercise of the soul, which doesn't know that it is counting.)

--Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
Music is organized sound.
--Edgard Varese
Music washes away the dust of every day life.
--Art Blakey
Music is my mistress and she plays second fiddle to no one.
--Duke Ellington
What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music (cicadas in the tropical night). The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infinite. It is the 'esperanto' of the world.
--Duke Ellington
The other night I heard a cat on the radio, and he was talking about 'modern' jazz.  So he played a record to illustrate the point, and there were devices in that music that I heard cats using in the 1920s.  These large words like 'modern' don't mean anything.  Everybody who's had anything to say in his music -- all the way back -- has been an individualist ... I listen for those individualists.  Like Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and like Charlie Parker was.
--Duke Ellington
I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.
--Igor Stravinsky
Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.
- Igor Stravinsky
Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.
--Maurice Ravel
Wagner's music is better than it sounds
--Mark Twain
I hate music, especially when it's played
--Jimmy Durante
My life is made better knowing that I will never have to listen to that again.
--Pianist Jessica Williams after hearing Robert Glasper's "Rise and Shine"
For me, the most important thing is the element of chance that is built into a live performance. The very great drawback of recorded sound is the fact that it is always the same. No matter how wonderful a recording is, I know that I couldn't live with it -- even of my own music -- with the same nuances forever.
--Aaron Copland
I can't believe that people really prefer to go to the concert hall under intellectually trying, socially trying, physically trying conditions, unable to repeat something they have missed, when they can sit at home under the most comfortable and stimulating circumstances and hear it as they want to hear it. I can't imagine what would happen to literature today if one were obliged to congregate in an unpleasant hall and read novels projected on a screen.
--Milton Babbitt
All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song
--Louis Armstrong
I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water.
--Ray Charles
Music has been around a long time, and there's going to be music long after Ray Charles is dead. I just want to leave my mark, leave something musically good behind.
--Ray Charles
There is hardly any money interest in art, and music will be there when money is gone.
--Duke Ellington
Music should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise. It's easy to rediscover part of yourself, but through art you can be shown part of yourself you never knew existed. That's the real mission of art. The artist has to find something within himself that's universal and which he can put into terms that are communicable to other people. The magic of it is that art can communicate to a person without his realizing it... enrichment, that's the function of music.
--Bill Evans
My theory is that music is good, it's the only religion that delivers the goods. And anybody who wants to hear any kind of music is entitled to hear that music because it's good for you ? it makes you feel good. If you like it, go for it. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean anything -- it's a matter of personal taste.
--Fank Zappa
A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.
--Frank Zappa
There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another.
--Frank Zappa
I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone's teeth get cleaner?
--Frank Zappa
Music is the most physically inspiring of all the Arts.
--Frank Zappa
Dance music -- as I keep saying, you can dance to a windshield wiper... a windshield wiper that's fairly steady gives you a beat and all you need is an out-of-tune playing 'Melancholy Baby' and you've got dance music.
--Artie Shaw
On Life in Music
Don't be a musician under any circumstances unless you can bring yourself to be nothing else
--Paul Desmond

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music
--Albert Einstein
People say, Well, he wore that body out. Well, maybe I did. But it was to a good purpose. They should be thankful that I wore it out to the purpose I wore it out and that was writing and recording and touring and doing concerts. Everywhere I could possibly do them that I thought I might enjoy them. I thought people might enjoy me.
--Johnny Cash
There are two kinds of people, there's those who like Johnny Cash, and those that will.
--Marty Stuart
Every man knows that he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.
--Bono
For me, music and life are all about style.
--MIles Davis
I've changed music four or five times. What have you done of any importance other than be white?
--Miles Davis while attending a reception in honor of Ray Charles at Ronald Reagan's White House in 1987. This was his reply to a Washington society lady seated next to him who had asked him what he had done to be invited.
A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I'm still doing it.
--Miles Davis on being called a legend
My ego only needs a good rhythm section.
--Miles Davis on being asked what he looked for in musicians
I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter.
--Paul Desmond on why he chose a caree in music instead of writing
I can't understand these guys who just have to have your autograph. I asked one of them, 'What do you do when you get home, take it out and look at it?'
--Artie Shaw
No matter how carefully and assiduously and how deeply you bury shit, the American public will find it and buy it in large quantity,
--Artie Shaw
Tastes are created by the business interests. How else can you explain the popularity of Al Hirt?
--Charles Mingus
They're singing your praises while stealing your phrases.
--Charles Mingus
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.
--Duke Ellington
Most customers, by the time the musicians reach the second set, are to some extent inebriated. They don't care what you play anyway.
--Charles Mingus
They're not particular about whether you're playing a flatted fifth or a ruptured 129th as long as they can dance to it.
--Dizzy Gillespie
Well, I'm too old to pimp, and too young to die, so I'm just gon' keep playin'
--Clark Terry
There is nothing to keeping a band together. You simply have to have a gimmick, and the gimmick I use is to pay them money!
--Duke Ellington
On Jazz Musicians
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!
--Nate "Cannonball" Adderly
You can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played.
--Miles Davis on Lous Armstrong
He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way.
--Duke Ellington on Lous Armstrong
He plays like somebody is standing on his foot.
--Miles Davis on Eric Dolphy
It's like living in a house where everything's painted red.
--Paul Desmond on Ornette Coleman
He was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano; every jazz pianist since Bud either came through him or is deliberately attempting to get away from playing like him.
--Herbie Hancock on Bud Powell
When Lester plays, he almost seems to be singing; one can almost hear the words.
--Bille Holiday on Lester Young
The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.
--Duke Ellington
I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn't only just swing but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around.
--Charles Mingus
Well, if I could play like Wynton, I wouldn't play like Wynton.
--Chet Baker on Wynton Marsalis
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.
--Dizzy Gillespie
Miles got a mystique about him... plus he's at the top of his profession... And he's got way, way, way more money.
--Dizzy Gillespie
On Duke
Count Basie was college, but Duke Ellington was graduate school.
--Clark Terry
At least one day out of the year all musicans should just put their instruments down, and give thanks to Duke Ellington.
--Miles Davis
He wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming.  He doesn't even like definitive song endings to a piece.  He'd often ask us to come up with the ideas for closings, but when he'd settled on one of them, he'd keep fooling with it.  He always likes to make the end of a song sound as if it's still going somewhere.
--Clark Terry
Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be too famous too young.
--Duke, himself, at age 66, on being passed over for a Pulitzer Prize in music) in 1965

Other Music Genres
Rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock.
--Kurt Cobain
In fact rock, rather than being an example of how freedom can be achieved within the capitalist structure, is an example of how capitalism can, almost without conscious effort, deceive those whom it oppresses...
--Michael Lydon
Pop music is about saying "fuck me". Rock and roll is about saying "fuck you."
--Chrissie Hynde
Rock stars, is there anything they don't know?
--Homer Simpson
It's not music you would use to get a girl into bed. If anything, you're going to frighten her off.
--David Byrne on the music of the Talking Heads
I never did understand the resentment about Country artists "going pop". Either you've got what it takes to appeal to a whole lot of people, or you don't.
--Johnny Cash
What is soul? It's like electricity ? we don't really know what it is, but it's a force that can light a room.
--Ray Charles
What is soul? I don't know! Soul is a hamhock in your cornflakes... Soul is a joint rolled in toilet paper.
--George Clinton
He could very well be the Duke Ellington of Rock 'n' Roll.
--Miles Davis on Prince
It's that goddamned motherfucking 'Machine Gun.'
--Miles Davis' response when questioned on what he heard in the music of Jimi Hendrix
Basically I'm in the idea business -- whether it's a musical idea or a spoken idea ... If you wind up with a political system that wants to put idea men out of business, then you have worry on your hands.
--Frank Zappa
The rock and roll business is pretty absurd, but the world of serious music is much worse.
--Frank Zappa
I'll tell you what classical music is -- for those of you who don't know. Classical music is this music that was written by a bunch of dead people a long time ago. And it's formula music, the same as top forty music is formula music. In order to have a piece be classical, it has to conform to academic standards that were the current norms of that day and age ... I think that people are entitled to be amused, and entertained. If they see deviations from this classical norm, it's probably good for their mental health.
--Frank Zappa
All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff.
Frank Zappa
Rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, in order to provide articles for people who can't read.
--Frank Zappa
On Art
To the complaint, "There are no people in these photographs," I respond, "There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer."
--Ansel Adams
I would gladly give all my symphonies, had I been able to invent the locomotive.
--Anton Dvorák
Art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions: when it ceases to be dangerous you don't want it.
--Duke Ellington
There is no art when one does something without intention.
--Duke Ellington
Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.
--Charles Mingus
On Life
Sublimi feriam sidera vertice
[I shall strike the stars with my forehead.]
--Horace (Odes, book 1, ode 1, lines 35-36)
They say you should be nice to everyone on your way up because you might need them on your way down. I haven't seen anyone I know on the way down
--Jack Sheldon
My problem is that I appeal to everyone that can do me absolutely no good
--Rodney Dangerfield
I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.
--Herb Caen
Our lives begin to end when we are silent about things that matter.
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A problem is a chance for you to do your best.
--Duke Ellington
Gray skies are just clouds passing over.
--Duke Ellington
Love is indescribable and unconditional. I could tell you a thousand things that it is not, but not one that it is. Either you have it or you haven?t; there?s no proof of it.
--Duke Ellington
Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice but limited.
--Duke Ellington
Opinions are like assholes . . . everyone?s got one.
--Art Blakey
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
--Benjamin Franklin

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
--Abraham Lincoln
I have four children, and I want them to grow up in a country with a WORKING first amendment.
--Frank Zappa
The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.
--Frank Zappa
The most important thing to do in your life, is to not interfere with somebody else's life.
--Frank Zappa
Remember there's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.
--Frank Zappa
The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents -- because they have a tame child-creature in their house.
--Frank Zappa
May your shit come to life and kiss you on the face.
--Frank Zappa to Tipper Gore about parental advisory labels on album covers
I think it's really tragic when people get serious about stuff. It's such an absurdity to take anything really serious ... I make an honest attempt not to take anything seriously: I worked that attitude out about the time I was eighteen, I mean, what does it all mean when you get right down to it, what's the story here?
--Frank Zappa
Tobacco is my favorite vegetable.
--Frank Zappa
A drug is not bad. A drug is a chemical compound. The problem comes in when people who take drugs treat them like a license to behave like an asshole.
--Frank Zappa
Why Should I Smile When I'm Sitting Here With You?
--Frank Zappa on CNN's Crossfire
A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open.
--Frank Zappa
Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.
--Frank Zappa
If we can't be free, at least we can be cheap
--Frank Zappa
Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.
--Frank Zappa
Go ahead Senator, I already hold you in contempt.
--Frank Zappa to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) during the "Tipper Gore Musical Obscenity" Hearings. Gorton had just warned Zappa he might be held in contempt of Congress for his ttitude
I'm not bitter. Why should I be bitter? I'm thrilled to death with life. Life is ? the way God has given it to me was just a platter ? a golden platter of life laid out there for me. It's been beautiful.
--Johnny Cash
Compassion is something I have a lot of, because I've been through a lot of pain in my life. Anybody who has suffered a lot of pain has a lot of compassion.
--Johnny Cash
Every possession is just another stick to beat yourself with.
--Johnny Cash
Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff.
--Frank Zappa
How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.
--Johnny Cash
I do believe the sum extent of the messiness, disarrangement, disorder, and dirtiness of your room is equal to that of your brain.
--Johnny Cash
It's good to know who hates you, and it's good to be hated by the right people.
--Johnny Cash
My Mama always said she wanted her roses while she was living... not after she was gone. That's why everyone should always honour their mother and father. No matter how much you may disagree with their beliefs, those that have lived longer than us always have something to teach us, that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.
--Johnny Cash
Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.
--Johnny Cash
The best way to say anything is just to say it.
--Johnny Cash
When God forgave me, I figured I'd better do it too.
--Johnny Cash
A goal is a dream with a finish line.
--Duke Ellington
Affluence separates people. Poverty knits 'em together. You got some sugar and I don't; I borrow some of yours. Next month you might not have any flour; well, I'll give you some of mine.
--Ray Charles
You better live every day like your last because one day you're going to be right.
--Ray Charles
I like to watch the news, because I don't like people very much and when you watch the news ... if you ever had an idea that people were really terrible, you could watch the news and know that you're right.
--Frank Zappa
I wouldn't be surprised if he agreed to give up a lifetime of gastronomic joys in order to live an extra week or month at the very end.  I strike my balance at a more human point.  The sole purpose of life is not longevity.
-- Jeffrey Steingarten on NY mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYC trans-fat ban
Middle aged men are not cats.  The sole purpose of life is not to sleep it away.
--me
I like the girls to match the upholstery of the car.
--Charlie Barnet

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