Great Jazz Quotes
Read What People Have Said About This
Truly American Music Form

These jazz quotes are all about one of America's finest inventions. For jazz is the truest, most purely American of all music forms.

Men have died for this music.
You can't get more serious than that.
~Dizzy Gillespie

With deep roots in the black musical tradition, what we think of as Jazz was born in New Orleans, nurtured through the early 20th century in smoky nightclubs and on street corners, and grew to maturity in the big-city clubs of New York, Chicago, and Philly and on to the Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall.

Jazz as a form is nearly impossible to define—with its elements of ragtime, blues, and Dixieland, be-bop, swing, and soul. But man—you know it when you hear it. You know it's just...Jazz.

When you got to ask what it is, you'll never get to know.
~Louis Armstrong

Perhaps it is truest to say jazz is a state of mind. And the state of mind of the individual performer makes all the difference. With its emphasis on improvisation and "playing what you feel," jazz music never really gives you the same experience twice—even from the same performer.

This very long list of jazz quotes is proof that, since its beginning, people have written and talked a lot about jazz and its meaning, its heart, its reach. Our Jazz quotations cover all that and more. And be sure to check out the related pages of quotations by some jazz greats: Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and John Coltrane.

For decades, people have been predicting jazz is a dying form. Yet it continues to thrive, adapt and grow. Hear what some of the jazz giants and others had to say about it with this large collection of jazz quotes.

My audience was my life. What I did and how I did it was all for my audience.
~Cab Calloway

You get that right tickin' rhythm, man & its ON!
~Fats Waller

Bop is just Stravinsky played on an empty stomach.
~Florian Zabach

Jazz came to America three hundred years ago in chains.
~Paul Whiteman

There are notes between notes, you know.
~Sarah Vaughan

Cab Calloway-Jazz Quotes

Cab Calloway in 1947

One of the things I like about jazz, kid, is I don't know what's going to happen next. Do you?
~Bix Beiderbecke

To my way of thinking, Bessie Smith was the greatest artist American jazz ever produced; in fact, I am not sure that her art did not reach far beyond the limits of the term "jazz."
~John Hammond

If a guy's got it, let him give it. I'm selling music, not prejudice.
~Benny Goodman, on integrating Negroes into his band

My greatest teacher was not a vocal coach, not the work of other singers, but the way Tommy Dorsey breathed and phrased on the trombone.
~Frank Sinatra

True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.
~George Gershwin

I've had the pleasure of playing with the baddest Jazz cats on the planet.
~George Benson

Jazz is the expression of protest against law and order, the bolshevik of license striving for expression in music.
~Anne Shaw Faulkner

The word jazz in its progress toward respectability has meant first sex, then dancing, then music.
~F. Scott Fitgerald

Billie Holiday-1947-jaz quotes

Billie Holiday, 1947

I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
~Billie Holiday

It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play.
~Dizzie Gillespie

Someday we may have as many followers as the harpsichord.
~Eddie Condon

I don't care about the rules; if I don't break the rules at least 10x every song then I'm not doing my job.
~Jeff Beck

There is a time where you're beyond yourself, better than your technique, better than your usual ideas.
~Dave Brubeck

Music invented by demons for the torture of imbeciles.
~Henry Van Dyke, when asked about jazz

A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges.
~Benny Green

Five Great Jazz Quotes From the Great Count Basie.

Keep on listening and tapping your feet.

If you find a note tonight that sounds good, play the same damn note every night!

I don't dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play. My boys and I have to have four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating.

If you play a tune and a person don't tap their feet, don't play the tune.

Of course, there are a lot of ways you can treat the blues, but it will still be the blues.

Count Basie, ca 1947

All the greatest jazz artists have one quality that shines through in all their music: PASSION. It informs every note and phrase. It gives grace to their music. Look at the passion in the words of some of the greats in these jazz quotes:

Jazz goes into my coffee in the morning, into my wine at night.
~D. C. DowDell

Jazz is not just music, it's a way of life, it's a way of being, a way of thinking.
~Nina Simone

When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don't even notice.
~Sarah Vaughan

Music comes first from my heart, and then goes upstairs to my head where I check it out.
~Roberta Flack

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?
~Nat Adderley

I wanted to make somebody feel like Coltrane
made me feel.
~Wynton Marsalis

If it's all about the music, not words… 'bout doin' it, not talkin' 'bout it...then why did I find SO MANY wonderful jazz quotes? I never intended this page to be so long!

But it seems like people just love talking and writing about jazz—what it means, what it says, how it feels. And they just keep on coming up with good, wise, funny quotations about jazz. I couldn't NOT include these too.

Jazz is not a craze...its significance is that it is one of the greatest landmarks of modern art .
~George Anthiel

Jazz without the beat, most musicians know, is a telephone yanked from the wall; it just can't communicate.
~Leonard Feather

Those were the years! In 1925, I grossed $680,000—before taxes—thank the Lord. Around 1922 our band played for a party for Clarence Mackay… and I got a $10,000 tip myself, not unusual in those days.
~Paul Whiteman

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."
~Eddie Condon on Bix Beiderbecke

Jazz was not only built in the minds of the great ones, but on the backs of the ordinary ones.
~Cab Calloway

Jazz musicians are the only workers who will put in a full shift for pay and then go somewhere else and continue to work for free.
~George Carlin

Man, as long as people want to hear Jazz, I'll give it to them.
~Lionel Hampton

If you hit a wrong note, then make it right by what you play afterward.
~Joe Pass

The Apollo Theater has been a fixture in Harlem, in New York City, since it was built in 1914. This Harlem icon helped launch the careers of such jazz greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Etta Jones, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.

The list of other famous Apollo jazz artists is too long to name them all but it includes: Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Bessie Smith, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ruth Brown, Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, and... and... and...

I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.
~Billy Holiday

Jazz is about being in the moment.
~Herbie Hancock

Jazz has always been a man telling the truth about himself.
~John Paul Jones

I'm trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it's difficult is because I'm changing all the time.
~Herbie Hancock

Jazz is restless. It won't stay put and it never will.
~J. J. Johnson

Whew! What a lot of jazz quotes to choose from. Who knew people would be so verbose and eager to talk about something so hard to define, something you really just have to hear to understand?

Finally, here's one last one. I think this might be my favorite of all these jazz quotes, a great way to sign off...

Anyone who understands Jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated.
That's what's so simple about it.
~Yogi Berra

Return from Jazz Quotes to the Home Page

Check out these other pages of Jazz Quotes by some of the Greats

Charlie Parker Quotes

Ella Fitzgerald Quotes