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'Do not fear mistakes. There are none' – 130 inspiring quotes on creativity and jazz on International Jazz Day

Madanmohan Rao
30th Apr 2015
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What is common between startups and jazz? Creativity, improvisation, collaboration and perseverance! America’s 20th century gifts to the world include the buzz of Silicon Valley startups as well as the joy of jazz, both of which continue to evolve and thrive and have sprung up now in diverse forms in countries around the globe. “The genius of our country is improvisation, and jazz reflects that. It's our great contribution to the arts,” says filmmaker Ken Burns.


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April 30 is designated by UNESCO as International Jazz Day, to highlight jazz and its contribution to uniting people around the world. Jazz Day raises awareness about jazz and the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding. Official host cities of Jazz Day celebrations have been Istanbul (2013), Osaka (2014) and Paris (2015).

In 2014, people in 196 countries organised more than 600 jazz events on April 30th. Updates on jazz performances and special events hosted in April 2015 around the world are being tweeted from @IntlJazzDay (hashtag: #JazzDay).

"In times of change and uncertainty, we need the spirit of jazz more than ever before, to bring people – especially young women and men – together, to nurture freedom and dialogue, to create new bridges of respect and understanding, for greater tolerance and cooperation,” says Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.

Jazz has morphed and mashed up with forms of music around the world to produce an astonishing array of genres: acid jazz, African jazz, ambient jazz, avant-garde jazz, bebop, big band jazz, bossa nova, Cape jazz, chamber jazz, club jazz, cool jazz, Cubop, dixieland, electro jazz, gypsy jazz, Indo jazz, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Latin jazz, modal jazz, nu jazz, post-bop, punk jazz, reggae jazz, ska jazz, smooth jazz, straight-ahead jazz, swing, West Coast jazz and world jazz!

There is even a book called ‘The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation and Agility’ by Adrian Cho, a software developer and jazz musician. ‘What’s new in innovation education? Jazz, for one thing,” writes Melissa Korn in the Wall Street Journal. “Your business should be like a jazz combo,” suggests Josh Linkner in Forbes magazine. To get comfortable with ambiguity, entrepreneurs should take up a hobby which involves a lot of improvisation, such as jazz or rock climbing, advises investor Monica Mehta in her book, ‘The Entrepreneurial Instinct.’

In this compilation in alphabetical order, we present you 130 quotes on the joy of jazz and creativity by musicians around the world! (See also my photo essay on ‘60 years of creativity at the Java Jazz Festival 2015,’ and my app ‘Oktav: Music Quotes and Proverbs’ on Apple and Android platforms.) Attend a local event on jazz in your city, or just plug into the all-stars live stream from the International Jazz Day celebration in Paris!


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A good quartet is like a good conversation among friends interacting to each other's ideas. - Stan Getz

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

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. - Duke Ellington

All of the sounds of the earth are like music. - Oscar Hammerstein

Anytime you strike the drums, you have to be aware that you’re creating a musical event. - Vinnie Colaiuta

As long as you've got your horn in your mouth, you're developing. - Zoot Sims

Bass is ace! - Karen O

Bass players are always the intellectual kind, but nobody knows it. - Stanley Clarke

Blues is a condition which doesn’t change from generation to generation. Every generation discovers it in its own way. - John Hammond

Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread - without it, it's flat. - Carmen McRae

Change is always happening. That's one of the wonderful things about jazz music. - Maynard Ferguson

Do not be afraid of being wrong; just be afraid of being uninteresting. - T. Carl Whitmer

Do not fear mistakes. There are none. - Miles Davis

Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you. - Charlie Parker

Drum soloing is like doing a marathon and solving equations at the same time. - Neil Peart

Everybody is equal! Jazz is the spirit. - Christian Prommer

Every thing and every human action revolves in rhythm. - Babatunde Olatunji

External instruments are only extensions of the biological instrument. - Yusef Lateef

Folk and funk, rock and raga, can blend well with jazz. - Upendra Lal Singh

Global collaborations help you to seek and pursue new directions. - L. Subrananiam

How you play a note is just as important as what the note is. - Henry Kaiser

I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. - Oscar Peterson

I do like to look at female drummers, because I am one. - Caroline Corr

I do not admire a musician who just plays good music, I admire a composer who shows his music through his life. - Youngjun Choi

I don't put boundaries on myself when I sit at the piano. - Vanessa Carlton

I find Indian music very funky. I mean it's very soulful, with their own kind of blues. But it's the only other school on the planet that develops improvisation to the high degree that you find in jazz music. So we have a lot of common ground. - John McLaughlin

I love jazz and funk, because it's hard. If it's not hard, it's not worth doing. - Chris Carter

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

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 only got seventh-grade education, but I have a doctorate in funk, and I like to put that to good use. - James Brown

I paint and sculpt with the blues. - John Hammond

I start in the middle of a sentence and move in both directions at once. - John Coltrane

I think that a musician is like a doctor, he's supposed to heal people and make them feel better. - Steve Turre

I used to drum on the table at school. I think a handful of my school reports say that they thought I might have some kind of ADD. - Jamie Cullum

I’m an interpreter of stories. When I perform it’s like sitting down at my piano and telling fairy stories. - Nat King Cole

If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it. - Louis Armstrong

If I put too many instruments on stage it will become crowded just like Bangalore traffic! - Trilok Gurtu

If music is a place - then jazz is the city, folk is the wilderness, rock is the road, classical is a temple. - Vera Nazarian

If no one decided to try blend blue and red, there would be no purple! Fusion is necessary in order for music to evolve. - Louie Talan

If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying. - Coleman Hawkins

If you don't know the blues there's no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music. - Keith Richards

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

If you're going to make a mistake, make it loud so everybody else sounds wrong. - Joe Venuti

I'm reserved, so I've always needed to find a way of opening up. Jazz helped me do that. - Renee Fleming

Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself. - Cecil Taylor

In New Orleans, every night is a party night. - Ustad Ashish Khan

In this new century, creativity in any form cannot be blocked. - Agam Hamzah

Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the BEST. - Frank Zappa

It is always a learning curve being a musician. You can never stop learning and being inspired. - Kevin Henderson

It is always interesting playing outside your home country, people react to the music without any preconceived notions. - Dhruv Ghanekar

It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something. - Ornette Coleman

It's like a whole orchestra, the piano for me. - Dave Brubeck

It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play. - Dizzy Gillespie


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

Jazz has this honesty and I mean every word I sing. - Andayoma

Jazz is a feeling, more than anything else. It isn't music, it's language. - Enos Payne

Jazz is a mental attitude rather than a style. - Bill Evans

Jazz is about being in the moment. - Herbie Hancock

Jazz is like a garden with flowers in different areas growing with different fertilisers. - Randy Raine Reusch

Jazz is not dead - it just smells funny. - Frank Zappa

Jazz is rhythm and meaning. - Henri Matisse

Jazz is the art of thinking out loud. - Barbara Januszkiewicz

Jazz is the continual pulsation of the now. - Pat Martino

Jazz is the music of the body. - Anais Nin

Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time. - Ornette Coleman

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

Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple. - Keith Jarrett

Jazz to me is a living music. – Dexter Gordon

Jazz today, as always in the past, is a matter of thoughtful creation, not mere unaided instinct. - Duke Ellington

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

Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life. - Art Blakey

Jazz will endure just as long people hear it through their feet instead of their brains. - John Philip Sousa

Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens. - Jimi Hendrix

Let there be bass. - Leo Fender

Life is a lot like jazz, it’s best when you improvise. - George Gershwin

Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are. - Mickey Hart

Life is like a trumpet - if you don't put anything into it, you don't get anything out of it. - William Christopher Handy

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. - Charles Mingus

Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past. They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins. - Carlos Santana

Music is the only thing that has never failed me. People let you down, music won't. - Gary Bartz

Music is not just the black dots on the white paper - it's what happens when those black dots on the white paper go into your heart, and come out again. - Phil Smith

Music is pure love, the strongest vibration in the universe, which embodies all colors. Ascribing anything else to it lacks intellectual substance. - Nora McCarthy

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. - Charlie Parker

Music keeps people sane. - Zoot Sims

Music, for me, has always been a place where anything is possible - a refuge, a magical world where anyone can go, where all kinds of people can come together, and anything can happen. We are limited only by our imaginations. - Bill Frisell

Music, of course, is what I hear and something that I more or less live by. It's not an occupation or profession, it's a compulsion. - Duke Ellington

No baritone player should be afraid of the noise it makes. - Pepper Adams

Nowadays I get complaints about long drum solos, but in those days they wanted me to keep on going so they could go over to the bar and have a drink. - Aynsley Dunbar

One of the purposes of music is to make people happy and I think one can be happy only if everybody is happy. - Mishko M’ba

Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing. - Duke Ellington

Rhythm is the soul of life, because the whole universe revolves around rhythm, and when we get out of rhythm, that’s when we get into trouble. - Babatunde Olatunji

Risk is at the heart of jazz. Every note we play is a risk. - Steve Lacy

Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God. - Lionel Hampton

Some songs are just like tattoos for your brain, you hear them and they're affixed to you. - Carlos Santana

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. - Thelonious Monk

Technically, I'm not a guitar player, all I play is truth and emotion. - Jimi Hendrix

The bass player's function, along with the drums, is to be the engine that drives the car. - Suzi Quatro

The beauty of jazz is that it's malleable. People are addressing it to suit their own personalities. - Pat Metheny

The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale. – Nelson Mandela

The guitar chose me. - Charlie Byrd

The idea is more important than the style or the contents of the style you're trying to play in. - Ornette Coleman

The mark of good musicians is not how much they know, but what and how they feel, how they bring life to notes, and bring in the Divine Breath. - L. Subrananiam

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. - Carlos Santana

When I sit down to learn to play something, it is not because I want to master a technique. It is because I want to hear what an idea sounds like. - Pat Martino

The piano has been drinking, not me. - Tom Waits

The reward for playing jazz is playing jazz. - John Lewis

The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness. - Herbie Hancock

The whole thing of being in music is not to control it but to be swept away by it. If you're swept away by it you can't wait to do it again and the same magical moments always come. - Bobby Hutcherson

The wonderful thing about jazz is its willingness to take chances. - Madeleine Peyroux

There is no point to samba if it doesn't make you smile. - Alma Guillermoprieto

There is no such thing as a wrong note. - Art Tatum

This is so nice, it must be illegal. - Fats Waller

To me if it's anything, jazz is a verb - it's more like a process than it is a thing. - Pat Metheny

To me, the piano in itself is an orchestra. - Cecil Taylor

Today jazz is still very much alive. Everywhere I go there's a new generation of musicians. - Toots Thielemans

Wes Montgomery played impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible. - Ronnie Scott

What we play is life. - Louis Armstrong

When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them. - Don Cherry

When you get to the top, don't forget to send the elevator down for the next guy. - Stan Kenton

When you're dead, you're done. - Louis Armstrong

Where human eyes have never seen, where human beings have never been, I build a world of abstract dreams, and I wait for you. - Sun Ra

Without a piano I don’t know how to stand, don’t know what to do with my hands. - Norah Jones

Women and rhythm-section first! - Jaco Pastorius

Wrong is right. - Thelonious Monk.

Your horn is your passport to the world. - Tommy Smith

 

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