April 12, 2015 | Posted in JAZZ | By

The quotable Miles Davis: The 9 selected quotes below do indeed capture the essence of the street wise and equally brilliant mind of Miles Davis.Miles Davis Photo available at Amazon.com

Some of Miles’ quotes cut to the core, like a skilled surgeon performing an appendectomy. Many of his quotes are pearls of wisdom, especially in a musical context, those are usually simple and profound.

Some of the quotes are biting, and display what Miles’ street wise view of the world was; they were often times hilarious, and almost never politically correct.

Certainly Miles had a dark sense of humor too, but he also knew how to read people, especially his band members over the years.

Miles would have made a good baseball manager, he knew when to put his arm around a musician, and when to kick him in the ass. He also knew which guys to leave alone.

 “Good music is good, no matter what kind of music it is”

 “When you’re creating your own shit man, even the sky ain’t the limit”

“My ego only needs a good rhythm section”

My favorite Miles Davis book

Paul Tingen’s Miles Beyond has the honor of being the best jazz book I have ever owned, this book is indispensable with its in-depth commentary, particularly the information on the electric period of 1969-1991.

“Tingen goes in depth, not only about each session during Miles’ Electric period, but also his life in detail during the time period, warts and all”.

He touches on inter personal relationships with other band mates, both good and bad. Miles was all over the map personally during this phase of his life, his music sounds this way too; always on the move reaching forward and never looking back.

Miles Beyond also doubles as a quick electric period reference book for all the electric period sessions, all the way until Miles’ death in 1991 at the age of 65. If you are a Miles fan, you must own this book.

 “If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit.”

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

 “It’s always been a gift with me, hearing music the way I do. I don’t know where it comes from? It’s always been there, I don’t question it.”

A few funny Miles Davis stories

Many people not as familiar with the legacy of Miles Davis, probably would not know that Miles was actually a very funny man.

By all accounts from band mates, other musicians, and other entertainers, Miles had a knack for the perfectly timed joke, just like his perfectly timed minimalist trumpet playing.

Miles was not a big fan of the rock n roller Steve Miller:

Miles was in rare form describing how he, Miles Davis, had to open up for this non playin’ mother f#ck%r Steve Miller, just because he has a couple of sorry ass records out.

Miles opined how he showed up late on purpose, so Miller had to go on first. Miles was just matter of fact telling a story, he probably wasn’t even trying to be funny. I am not a particular fan of Steve Miller either, but non playin mf”r seems a bit harsh? Well, next to Miles, that sounds about right to me. I guess Miles wasn’t a midnight toker playing his music in the sun?

Miles was not a big fan of alto sax/flutist Eric Dolphy:

During a Downbeat Magazine Blind Fold Test, Miles put down the avant-garde alto sax whiz. Miles early on did not seem to dig atonal sounds at all. It is ironic too, considering the type of music Miles would be playing less than 10 years later.

On June 18′ 1964 After being played a Dolphy composition “Mary Ann” Miles responds: “Thats got to be Eric Dolphy, no body else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I am going to step on his foot, you can print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad mutha f…

“Knowledge is freedom, and ignorance is slavery”

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

 “I’ve changed music 4 or 5 times, what have you done of any importance, other than being white?”

Note: Reportedly the final quote was given to a rich white lady who didn’t know who Miles was, when he was asked what he had done to be honored at the White House.


Photo: used with permission via Amazon.com


Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.


  1. Sandy
    April 12, 2015

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    As some one who works with words, this one touched me:

    “When you’re creating your own shit man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”

    This is something I grapple with: “creating your own” and being your own measure of success.

    Thank you for sharing the essence of Miles.

  2. sockii
    April 13, 2015

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    “My ego only needs a good rhythm section” – I love this. It makes me wish Stewart Copeland and Miles could have done a session at the Sacred Grove. I imagine it would have been epic.

    • Jason Sositko
      April 13, 2015

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      You know, now that you mention it, it is a shame they didn’t do some some sort of a collaboration. Miles’ bands of the 80’s fit right into the pop music of the 80’s, they being Influenced by new wave, along with funk and hip hop.

      Miles participated on that anti-apartheid record Little Steven put together during the mid-80’s, Sun City I think was the name of it? I don’t think Copeland or the Police were involved with that, but I could envision Miles doing versions of Police tunes, like he did Cindy Lauper’s “Time after Time” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”.

      Miles always could turn a pop standard into the definitive jazz rendition of it, even during the 80’s, when much of his music was a little safer and more refined.

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