Jazz Quotes

Here are some quotes from Jazz Masters. Be inspired by their wisdom and music!

“Gray skies are just clouds passing over.”—Duke Ellington

 “One very important thing I learned from (Thelonious) Monk was his complete dedication to music. That was his reason for being alive. Nothing else mattered except music, really.”—Sonny Rollins

“Regardless of what you play the biggest thing is keeping the feel going.” —Wes Montgomery

“Jazz is the language of the emotions.”—Charles Mingus

 “Jazz is the big brother of the blues. If a guy’s playing blues like we play, he’s in high school. When he starts playing jazz it’s like going on to college, to a school of higher learning.”—B. B. King

 “We all have to open our minds, stretch forth, take chances and venture out musically to try and arrive at something new and different.”—Horace Silver

 I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe.”  − John Coltrane

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.”—Ella Fitzgerald

Billie Holiday , Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan

“When Lester plays, he almost seems to be singing; one can almost hear the words.”—Billie Holiday

“The beauty of jazz is that it is malleable. People address to suit their own personalities.”—Pat Metheny

 “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.”—Stan Getz

 “Jazz is music made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions.”—Johnny Griffin

 “Sometime you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”—Miles Davis


Listen to their music on our playlist!


Jazz Quotes

Here are some quotes from Jazz Masters. Be inspired by their wisdom and music!

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”—Ella Fitzgerald

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.”—Coleman Hawkins

Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins

“The whole basis of my singing is feeling. Unless I feel something, I can’t sing.”—Billie Holiday

“It’s very difficult for me to dislike an artist. No matter what he’s creating, the fact that he’s experiencing the joy of creation makes me feel like we’re in a brotherhood of some kind… we’re in it together.”—Chick Corea

“Listening is the key to everything good in music.”—Pat Metheny

“Clouds float in the same pattern only once.”—Wayne Shorter

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

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

“Originality’s the thing. You can have tone and technique and a lot of other things but without originality you ain’t really nowhere. Gotta be original.”—Lester Young

“I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason why it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.”—Charles Mingus

“Jazz is the type of music that can absorb so many things and still be jazz.”—Sonny Rollins

“Jazz has the power to make men forget their differences and come together… Jazz is the personification of transforming overwhelmingly negative circumstances into freedom, friendship, hope, and dignity.”—Quincy Jones

Miles Davis

“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.”—Miles Davis

“One thing I like about jazz, kid, is that I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?”—Bix Beiderbecke


Listen to their music on our playlist!



Brilliant and Troubled Lady Day

Known for her complexity, uncompromising artistry, notorious private life and gardenias in her hair, Billie Holiday still holds the status of a legendary and unique jazz diva. Her undeniable gift to make any song her own left the jazz legacy with some of its most sensitive vocal performances, including  ”Lover Man,” “Don’t Explain,” “Strange Fruit” and her own composition, “God Bless the Child”.


Born Eleanora Fagan, Billie Holiday grew up in Baltimore in the 1920s with her mother. Often left in the care of other people, she was raped at the age of ten and sent to a reformatory for allegedly seducing her attacker. Shortly after, Billie followed her mother to New York City and worked in a Harlem brothel. During this time, she found solace in music, singing along to the records of Bessie Smith and Louis “Pops” Armstrong.  Billie later explained, “I always wanted Bessie’s big sound and Pops’s feeling.” 

She changed her name to Billie Holiday, adapting “Billie” from the movie star Billie Dove and her father’s last name. Jazz promoter John Hammond heard Billie for the first time in New York’s Monette’s club in 1933 and wrote in the magazine Melody Maker that, “Billie, although only 18, weighs over 200 pounds, is incredibly beautiful, and sings as well as anybody I ever heard”. Hammond told clarinetist and popular bandleader Benny Goodman about Holiday and the two went to to hear Holiday at Monette’s. Both were impressed, and that was the start of Billie’s career.

Billie went on to record and perform with Teddy Wilson, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and Lester Young. Her longtime friend Lester is responsible for her nickname “Lady Day,” inspired by the sophistication and grace that she would bring to every song. She nicknamed him back “Prez” as a way of expressing her admiration for Lester.

Billie and Duke

After her mother’s death in 1945, Billie began drinking more and escalated her drug abuse to ease the grief. Hard living took a toll on her career. She was arrested and convicted for narcotics possession and sentenced to one year of jail time.  Her conviction banned her from singing in cabarets and clubs.  She was still able to perform at concert halls and sold out Carnegie Hall not long after her release.  She rekindled the public’s attention by sharing her turbulent life story in Lady Sings the Blues (1956), written in collaboration with William Dufty.

Soon after her last performance in New York City in 1959, she was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems. Billie Holiday passed away from alcohol and drug related complications at the age of 44.

Torture and anguish were her faithful companions. She was addicted to drugs, beaten by men that she loved and abandoned, but with her music and artistry she turned all of that adversity to beauty.

Friday JAM part 1

The National Museum of American History has designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month. JAM has been created to be an annual event that honors the legacy and spirit of jazz as the heart and soul of all popular music.

Berklee City Music is joining this festivity with special jazzy posts and events on our Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Enjoy our weekly updated Jazz Appreciation Month playlist and explore the history of jazz through song. New tunes every Friday!

Also, one of the special activities we are doing is a Transcription Challenge for City Music students at Network sites.  Students who enter and follow the rules will have the opportunity to win Berklee City Music swag.  Songs for the transcription challenge can also be found on the first edition of the Playlist!

Let us know which songs you’d like to hear next Friday! We’re eagerly waiting for your suggestions!

Women’s History Month: Dee Dee and Billie

Dee Bridgewater “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee” Album Cover (Emarcy Records, Universal Music Group, DDB Productions, Inc.)

Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform as Billie Holiday in a new musical, “Lady Day,” opening in September at New York’s Little Shubert Theater.  Billie Holiday was also known as Lady Day.  Dee Dee performed as Billie Holiday in Paris and London in the 1980s to professional acclaim.  In 2010, Dee Dee won the Grammy Award for best jazz vocal for “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.”  Eleanora Fagan was Billie Holiday’s birth name.  The musical tells Billie’s story, focusing on preparations for her final concerts.  (See our previous blog on Billie Holiday.)

Dee Dee was born Denise Eileen Garrett on May 27, 1950 in Memphis and was raised in Flint, MI.  Her mother played the albums of Ella Fitzgerald, whose artistry inspired Dee Dee throughout her career.  Her father was a jazz trumpeter who also taught music.

At age 16 Dee Dee was part of a rock and rhythm and blues trio that performed in clubs in Michigan.  She attended Michigan State University and then the University of Illinois.  In 1969, as a member of the University of Illinois jazz band, she toured the Soviet Union.  The next year she met trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater.  They were married and moved to New York City.  Dee Dee joined the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra as lead vocalist, and this was the beginning of her jazz career.  She sang with many great jazz musicians such as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Dee Dee won a Tony Award in 1975 as best featured actress in Broadway’s “The Wiz” for her acting and singing role as Glinda the good witch.  In 1998 Dee Dee won two Grammy Awards — best jazz vocal for “Dear Ella” and best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocal for “Cotton Tail “from “Dear Ella.”

In 1999 Dee Dee was named Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joined the battle against world hunger.

She is host of National Public Radio’s syndicated radio show JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Berklee City Music sincerely thanks Dee Dee Bridgewater for her contribution to jazz.

Visit Dee Dee Bridgewater’s website: www.deedeebridgewater.com

Check out “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Bille with Love from Dee Dee” on our “Women in Music” playlist.

Women’s History Month: Lady Sings the Blues

Billie Holiday Stamp

“God Bless the Child,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “My Man,” “Lover Man.”   The distinctive and highly recognizable voice known for singing these songs is that of Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday is among the most famous jazz singers.  Born Eleanora Fagan, she changed her name to Billie Holiday because of her admiration for a film star, “Billie Dove.”  She is also known as “Lady Day,” so named by saxophonist Lester Young.

Billie grew up in Baltimore, which was rich in jazz talent during the 1920s.  As a teenager, she sang with Bessie Smith and Louie Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs.  At age 18 she was spotted by music producer and A&R man John Hammond, and cut her first record as part of a studio group led by Bennie Goodman.  And so began her prolific career.

Billie was born April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia and died an untimely death 44 years later on July 17, 1959 in New York City.  She is buried in Bronx County, NY.  A statue of Billie stands at the corner of Lafayette and Pennsylvania Avenues in Baltimore.

Other tributes to Billie Holiday include:

  • The 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues” in which Diana Ross stars as Billie Holiday
  • The U2 Billie Holiday tribute song “Angel of Harlem” released in 1988
  • A 1994 United States Postal Service sponsored stamp honoring Billie Holiday
  • Billie Holiday’s induction in 2000 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 15th induction dinner with Diana Ross as her presenter

Check out some of Billie Holiday’s music on our “Women in Music” playlist.