These jazz quotes are all about one of America's finest inventions. For jazz is the truest, most purely American of all music forms.
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.
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.
You get that right tickin' rhythm, man & its ON!
Bop is just Stravinsky played on an empty stomach.
Jazz came to America three hundred years ago in chains.
There are notes between notes, you know.
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?
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."
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.
True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.
I've had the pleasure of playing with the baddest Jazz cats on the planet.
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
I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play.
Someday we may have as many followers as the harpsichord.
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.
There is a time where you're beyond yourself, better than your technique, better than your usual ideas.
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.
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.
When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don't even notice.
Music comes first from my heart, and then goes upstairs to my head where I check it out.
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?
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 .
Jazz without the beat, most musicians know, is a telephone yanked from the wall; it just can't communicate.
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.
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.
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.
Man, as long as people want to hear Jazz, I'll give it to them.
If you hit a wrong note, then make it right by what you play afterward.
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.
Jazz is about being in the moment.
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.
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...