124+ Best Miles Davis Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Miles Dewey Davis III was an American jazz musician, a great trumpeter who as a bandleader and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Inspirational Miles Davis quotes will challenge the way you think, and help guide you through any life experience.

If you’re searching for inspirational quotes by musicians that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of profound Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart quotes, amazing Bruno Mars quotes and top George Strait quotes.

Famous Miles Davis Quotes

The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does he have ideas. – Miles Davis

A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it. – Miles Davis

Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent. – Miles Davis

People will go for anything they don’t understand if it’s got enough hype. – Miles Davis

It took me twenty years study and practice to work up to what I wanted to play in this performance. How can she expect to listen five minutes and understand it? – Miles Davis

I don’t pay no attention to what critics say about me, the good or the bad. The toughest critic I got is myself…and I’m too vain to play anything I think is bad. – Miles Davis

I’ve always told the musicians in my band to play what they know and then play above that. Because then anything can happen, and that’s where great art and music happens. – Miles Davis

The way you change and help music is by tryin’ to invent new ways to play – Miles Davis

Always look ahead, but never look back. – Miles Davis

I never thought Jazz was meant to be a museum piece like other dead things once considered artistic. – Miles Davis

If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad. – Miles Davis

That was my gift . . . having the ability to put certain guys together that would create a chemistry and then letting them go; letting them play what they knew, and above it. – Miles Davis

If you love them in the morning with their eyes full of crust; if you love them at night with their hair full of rollers, chances are, you’re in love. – Miles Davis

What’s swinging in words? If a guy makes you pat your foot and if you feel it down your back, you don’t have to ask anybody if that’s good music or not. You can always feel it. – Miles Davis

You have to practice for a long time before you can learn to sound like yourself – Miles Davis

There are no wrong notes in jazz: only notes in the wrong places. – Miles Davis

All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal. – Miles Davis

I think every Negro over fifty should get a medal for putting up with all that crap. – Miles Davis

White folks always think that you have to have a label on everything – you know what I mean? – Miles Davis

A lot of people ask me where music is going today. I think it’s going in short phrases. If you listen, anybody with an ear can hear that. Music is always changing. It changes because of the times and the technology that’s available, the material that things are made of, like plastic cars instead of steel. So when you hear an accident today it sounds different, not all the metal colliding like it was in the forties and fifties. Musicians pick up sounds and incorporate that into their playing, so the music that they make will be different. – Miles Davis

When the band plays fast, you play slow; when the band plays slow, you play fast. – Miles Davis

I like Stan [Getz], because he has so much patience, the way he plays those melodies – other people can’t get nothing out of a song, but he can, which takes a lot of imagination. – Miles Davis

Bebop didn’t have the humanity of Duke Ellington. It didn’t even have that recognizable thing. Bird and Diz were great, fantastic, challenging — but they weren’t sweet. – Miles Davis

Food makes my mind sluggish. – Miles Davis

You can tell whether a person plays well or not by the way he carries the instrument, whether it means something to him or not. – Miles Davis

The only reason to write a new song is because you’re tired of the old ones. – Miles Davis

If you understood everything I say, you’d be me! – Miles Davis

In improvisation, there are no mistakes. – Miles Davis

Jazz is the big brother of Revolution. Revolution follows it around. – Miles Davis

Someday I’m gonna call me up on the phone, so when I answer, I can tell myself to shut up. – Miles Davis

Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is. – Miles Davis

In other words, an instrument should be an extension of you; it’s supposed to sound like you – the way you walk, the way you dress, you know. – Miles Davis

I don’t hold it against Dizzy [Gillespie], you know, but if a guy wants to play a certain way, you work towards that. If he stops – he’s full of crap, you know. I mean, I wouldn’t do it, for no money, or for no place in the white man’s world. Not just to make money, because then you don’t have anything. You don’t have as much money as whoever you’re trying to ape; that’s making money by being commercial. Then you don’t have anything to give the world; so you’re not important. You might as well be dead. – Miles Davis

Americans don’t like any form of art, man. All they like to do is make money. They don’t like me, Sammy Davis, or anybody else. They don’t like nothing. They just like Sammy because he can make ’em a lot of money. – Miles Davis

At least one day out of the year all musicians should just put their instruments down and give thanks to Duke Ellington. – Miles Davis

Jazz is like blues with a shot of heroin! – Miles Davis

My ego only needs a good rhythm section – Miles Davis

You know why I quit playing ballads? Cause I love playing ballads. – Miles Davis

My father’s rich, my momma’s good looking. Right? And I can play the Blues. I’ve never suffered and don’t intend to suffer. – Miles Davis

If you have to ask, you’ll never know. – Miles Davis

I know what I’ve done for music, but don’t call me a legend. Just call me Miles Davis. – Miles Davis

I can tell whether a person can play just by the way he stands. – Miles Davis

You should never be comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians. – Miles Davis

In high school I was best in music class on the trumpet, but the prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. – Miles Davis

I’ve come close to matching the feeling of that night in 1944 in music, when I first heard Diz and Bird, but I’ve never got there… I’m always looking for it, listening and feeling for it, though, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play everyday. – Miles Davis

People will go for anything they don’t understand if it’s got enough hype. They want to be hip, want always to be in on the new thing so they don’t look unhip. White people are especially like that, particularly when a black person is doing something they don’t understand…That’s what I thought was happening when Ornette hit town. – Miles Davis

When kids don’t learn about their own heritage in school, they just don’t care about school… But you won’t see it in the history books unless we get the power to write our own history and tell our story ourselves. – Miles Davis

Play what you know and then play above that – Miles Davis

A painting is music you can see, and music is a painting you can hear. – Miles Davis

If somebody told me I only had an hour to live, I’d spend it choking a white man. I’d do it nice and slow. – Miles Davis

In music, silence is more important than sound. – Miles Davis

It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. – Miles Davis

Always listen for what you can leave out. – Miles Davis

Knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery – Miles Davis

Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one. – Miles Davis

See, if you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time, then he can do that – but he’s got to think differently in order to do it. He’s got to play above what he knows – far above it. I’ve always told the musicians in my band to play what they know and then play above that. Because then anything can happen, and that’s where great art and music happens. – Miles Davis

First you imitate, then you innovate. – Miles Davis

I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life. – Miles Davis

If you sacrifice your art because of some woman, or some man, or for some color, or for some wealth, you can’t be trusted. – Miles Davis

It takes a long time to sound like yourself. – Miles Davis

Music is the framework around the silence. – Miles Davis

Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there. – Miles Davis

It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play. – Miles Davis

Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself. – Miles Davis

It’s like, how did Columbus discover America when the Indians were already here? What kind of s– is that, but white people’s s–? – Miles Davis

If you’re not nervous then you’re not paying attention. – Miles Davis

You have to know 400 notes that you can play, then pick the right four. – Miles Davis

We don’t play to be seen. I’m addicted to music, not audiences. – Miles Davis

My future starts when I wake up every morning. – Miles Davis

To keep creating you have to be about change. – Miles Davis

For me, music and life are all about style. – Miles Davis

You can dominate a game if you dominate on the line… We’re just going to have to go out there and work hard and blow people off the ball, and let our runners do what they do best. – Miles Davis

It’s always been a gift with me, hearing music the way I do. I don’t know where it comes from, it’s just there and I don’t question it. – Miles Davis

I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later. – Miles Davis

Of course, because I was at the beginning of my career. For me, as a musician, to have a chance for an icon like Miles Davis to play on one of my songs was something unique and unbelievable. – Miles Davis

The teams had to use 20 or more steps, but all of them used many more than that. It is fun and exciting, but most people don’t realize how much work goes into building a Rube Goldberg machine. – Miles Davis

I learned so much from my cousin (Alexander). I think he did things the right way. That’s how he made it to the NFL, … But the biggest thing I got from him was working hard and doing what ever you can to help the team. – Miles Davis

The judges will award points based on the creative use of materials and related themes – it is amazing how the teams engineer and construct machines in so many different and imaginative ways to perform the same task. – Miles Davis

Music is an addiction. – Miles Davis

When you work with great musicians, they are always a part of you . . . their spirits are walking around in me, so they’re still here and passing it on to others. – Miles Davis

You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis Armstrong hasn’t played – Miles Davis

Music is a funny thing when you really come to think about it. – Miles Davis

If you got up on the bandstand at Minton’s and couldn’t play, you were not only going to be embarrassed by the people ignoring you or booing you, you might get your ass kicked. – Miles Davis

Keith, how does it feel to be a genius? – Miles Davis

I really liked Wynton when I first met him. He’s still a nice young man, only confused. – Miles Davis

He sounded to me like he’s supposed to be the savior of jazz. Sometimes people speak as though someone asked them a question. Well, no one asked him a question. – Miles Davis

Everybody ought to listen to Benny [Carter]. He’s a whole musical education. – Miles Davis

You can’t compete with Sweets’ sound and time feel. It’s impossible. – Miles Davis

Birth of the Cool’ became a collector’s item, I think, out of a reaction to Bird and Dizzy’s music. Bird and Diz played this hip, real fast thing, and if you weren’t a fast listener, you couldn’t catch the humor or the feeling in their music. Their musical sound wasn’t sweet, and it didn’t have harmonic lines that you could easily hum out on the street with your girlfriend trying to get over with a kiss. – Miles Davis

Dave [Holland] plays the way he wants to play. And it’s usually what’s needed. You know, Dave is such a deep thinker. You can’t tell him too much, else it might spoil his spirit, you know. – Miles Davis

That’s the way you judge a car, man, [good or bad], when you start it up. It’s just the same thing. I mean, I drive a Ferrari – not to be cute, but because I dig it. I’d rather drive a ten-year-old Ferrari than one of them new things-they don’t go. – Miles Davis

Jazz is an Uncle Tom word. They should stop using that word for selling. I told George Wein the other day that he should stop using it. – Miles Davis

As long as I’ve been playing, they never say I done anything. They always say that some white guy did it. – Miles Davis

Monk taught me more about music composition than anyone else on 52nd Street. – Miles Davis

I’m out there doing the best that I can, My lip is cut and I’m still playing. – Miles Davis

In Europe, they like everything you do. The mistakes and everything. That’s a little bit too much. – Miles Davis

You have to be born with it. You can’t even buy it. If you could buy it, they’d have it at the next Newport Festival. – Miles Davis

We’re not going to play the blues anymore. Let the white folks play the blues. They got ’em, so they can keep ’em. – Miles Davis

You want to know how I started playing trumpet? My father bought me one, and I studied the trumpet. And everybody I heard that I liked, I picked up things from. – Miles Davis

I still got my Ferrari. – Miles Davis

I began to realize that some of the things Ornette Coleman had said about things being played three or four ways, independently of each other, were true because Bach had also composed that way. – Miles Davis

Trane was the perfect saxophonist for Monk’s music because of the space that Monk always used. Trane could fill up all that space with all them chords and sounds he was playing then. – Miles Davis

Tom Jones is funny to me, man. I mean, he really tries to ape Ray Charles and Sammy Davis, you know. He’s nice-looking; he looks good doing it. I mean, if I was him, I’d do the same thing. If I was only thinking about making money. – Miles Davis

When I heard Coleman Hawkins, I learned to play ballads – Miles Davis

John Lee Hooker is the funkiest man alive – Miles Davis

Coltrane, you can’t play everything at once! – Miles Davis

Prince could very well be the Duke Ellington of Rock ‘n’ Roll. – Miles Davis

So What or Kind of Blue were done in that era, the right hour, the right day. It’s over; it’s on the record. – Miles Davis

I would never try and play like Harry James, because I don’t like his tone – for me. It’s just white. You know what I mean? He has what we black trumpet players call a white sound. But it’s for white music. I can tell a white trumpet player, just listening to a record. There’ll be something he’ll do that’ll let me know that he’s white. – Miles Davis

Joao Gilberto on guitar could read a newspaper and sound good. – Miles Davis

I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath as long as he can swing. – Miles Davis

Sometimes [playing free] doesn’t happen, because maybe a guy’s wife’ll come in, you know, and his ego will catch him. If everybody’s completely just straight-without any old ladies over here, a fourth of whisky over there; if it’s balanced right, it’ll come off. It has to be. But when you get egos involved with playing free, you can’t do it. – Miles Davis

Look, man, all I am is a trumpet player. – Miles Davis

You can’t eat a winner’s plaque. – Miles Davis

Monk was a gentle person, gentle and beautiful, but he was strong as an ox. And if I had ever said something about punching Monk out in front of his face – and I never did – then somebody should have just come and got me and taken me to the madhouse, because Monk could have just picked my little ass up and thrown me through a wall. – Miles Davis

I always listen to what I can leave out. – Miles Davis

If you’re trying to be hip, be hip. – Miles Davis

I don’t like to hear someone put down dixieland. Those people who say there’s no music but bop are just stupid; it shows how much they don’t know. – Miles Davis

I’m not messing around with nobody’s woman. If I want a woman, I go get her – you know what I mean? – Miles Davis

Audiences – they like color, you know. I can go out there wearing a red suit, man, and they’ll say I’m out of sight … I think they should be educated; you should always drop something on an audience … When you get in front of an audience, you should try to give ’em something. After all, they’re there looking at you like this. You can’t go out and give ’em nothing. – Miles Davis

I ain’t no entertainer, and ain’t trying to be one. I am one thing, a musician. – Miles Davis

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

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. There are none. – Miles Davis

If you don’t know what to play, play nothing. – Miles Davis

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