To Quote or Not to Quote?

What do you think about quotes from other tunes in the middle of an improvised solo?   Some masters often quote (Desmond and Stitt are prime examples) while others almost never do (Coltrane comes to mind).  Do quotes provide a valuable resource, or are they a distraction?  Love to hear your opinion!  Please leave a post below.  

If you don’t like ’em, please tell us why.  If, on the other hand, you are an improviser who enjoys quotes, when are they appropriate and how do you choose your material?

For example, if you are playing a show tune, do you quote another tune from the same show?  One device i find particularly attractive is to alter the mode, begin the quote on the “wrong” beat, or change the melody in a way which – though recognizable – is clearly altered.

Here’s a curious observation about quotes:   By far the most often quoted tune is one which is never played!   That tune is “Bill,” written by Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse in 1917, but never heard until Act 2 of Kern and Hammerstein‘s classic 1927 musical Show Boat.    The opening lick – the one always quoted – goes like this:


The only time i ever heard “Bill” played by a jazz improviser was the 1939 record by Artie Shaw.   Why is it never played?   And why is it forever quoted.  I know of at least 25 instances.  In fact, i just heard it quoted on The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd / Pepper Adams Studio Sessions collection, which was the impulse for this post.

Once, while on a flight to L.A., i had the headphones on listening to the latest Bob Chinello compilation of great old jazz classics.   A live, outdoor Brubeck festival recording came on.  In the middle of the set, a plane flies by.  Dog gone it!  I thought we were about to collide with another plane.  Without flinching, Brubeck launches into “Up We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder”!   What a relief!   I was never so thankful to hear a quote!

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