Miles Davis Quotes: The Jazz Icon In His Own Words

The Dark Magus always had plenty to say about himself and his music.

Published on

Miles Davis
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Standing tall among the greatest jazz trumpeters in history, Miles Davis was never afraid to speak his mind. The best Miles Davis quotes offer astute observations on music – his own, and that of the wider jazz world. He could be controversial and challenging, but was, above all, engaging and inspiring.

These Miles Davis quotes offer invaluable insights into the life and art of The Dark Magus.


“The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does he have ideas.”


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


“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.”


“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”


“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”


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


“Anybody can play. The note is only 20%. The attitude of the mother****er who plays it is 80 percent.”


“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.”


“I always listen to what I can leave out.”


“For me, music and life are all about style.”


“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”


“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.”


“Jazz is the big brother of Revolution. Revolution follows it around.”


“I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath as long as he can swing.”


“You know why I quit playing ballads? Cause I love playing ballads.”


“Always look ahead, but never look back.”


“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.”


“At least one day out of the year all musicians should just put their instruments down, and give thanks to Duke Ellington.”


“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”


“If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!”

Explore our Miles Davis artist page.



  1. Aderito Matsimbe

    September 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    The Greatest Jazz Artist ever

    • uDiscover

      September 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      Aderito, you are o right!

  2. seth klutse

    September 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Miles Davis is and well always be my man.

  3. Charles Gunn

    September 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    He was the Emperor of Improvisational Innovative Simplistic Excellence!

    • LR

      September 29, 2015 at 2:33 am

      Look up the meaning of “simplistic”.

  4. Lee V Wright

    September 28, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    The self of me chose Miles 60 years ago and it has enriched all the music I hear. It’s because I know there’s Miles, I recognize the maverick squeak of
    a heel on the floor or the sound of a breeze meant
    just for me. When the music that Miles plays leaves the page; i.e. if it ever was there, leaves his horn, it stayed with me. Music loves the maverick, I’m told:
    However, if one is not of this ilk you don’t live in this neighborhood

  5. Jim C

    September 28, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    I am so grateful to have seen him in person a few times. Absolutely brilliant.

  6. Charles

    September 28, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I listen to his music like he’s playing it for me alone. Selfish?
    So What!

  7. Ron Weber

    September 29, 2015 at 2:05 am

    I loved Miles, but if ALL of those quotations made sense, you’re not cool, you’re Yogi Berra! (both R.I.P.)

  8. Sayeeda

    September 30, 2015 at 8:57 am

    I am really surprised to see that the great Miles Davis had processed hair way back when!! Did not know many jazz musicians (except Sachmo/LA) wore that style–only R&B singers. But I still love him!!!!! Of course, there was Nat King Cole…

  9. Owaniyi Taiwo

    November 13, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Jazz Master and Jazz Zombie of all time.R.I.P…You really impacted my music life and my playing method.You made my brass life lively and interesting.Thank you!…Miles Davis……

  10. chas

    January 10, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    As I recall, I think I played in an Air Force concert band while I was overseas in Japan & Korea back in the dark ages.

  11. Yves Denis Priam

    April 25, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Glad and amazed by the clarity of the late Miles Davis’ declarations.

  12. Freddy Rattler

    May 26, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    He wrote the book and closed the book. only something that’s not Jazz at all can follow.

  13. RJ

    March 2, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Miles once told John Coltrane his solo was too long. Coltrane replied that sometimes when he gets to playing he doesn’t know how to stop. Miles replied “take the horn out your mouth”

  14. Blaine

    October 11, 2019 at 4:13 am

    Another Miles quote I found in the small anthology called “Jazz Poems” reveals the racism he endured all his life…

    “If somebody told me I had an hour to live I’d spend it choking a white man. I’d do it nice and slow.”

    Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Jazz Poems – Knopf, p119.

  15. Shavit Ahpuras

    September 23, 2022 at 11:42 am

    I thought Miles said, “I would rather play new bad sh#t, rather than old good sh#t.”

  16. Michael

    November 3, 2023 at 3:54 am

    Not a very nice fellow bitter and twisted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Johnny Cash - Songwriter LP
Johnny Cash
Songwriter (Limited-Edition Smoke Color LP)
Johnny Cash - Songwriter CD
Johnny Cash
Songwriter CD
Johnny Cash - Songwriter LP
Johnny Cash
Songwriter LP
Paul McCartney & Wings - One Hand Clapping 2LP+7
Paul McCartney & Wings
One Hand Clapping (Limited 2LP + 7″)
Paul McCartney & Wings - One Hand Clapping 2CD
Paul McCartney & Wings
One Hand Clapping 2CD
Paul McCartney & Wings - One Hand Clapping 2LP
Paul McCartney & Wings
One Hand Clapping 2LP
uDiscover Music - Back To Top
uDiscover Music - Back To Top