When It Sounds Good, It Is Good

Duke Ellington? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an enormous literature dedicated to critiquing music using sophisticated methodologies. Yet, one famous musician had the confidence to advocate an aesthetic viewpoint based on direct experience and organic reaction:

When it sounds good, it is good.

Duke Ellington (Edward Kennedy Ellington) has received credit for this remark. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1957 Duke Ellington performed a concert titled “Such Sweet Thunder” which was inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. The concert included a set of vignettes based on Othello, Caesar, Henry V, Lady Macbeth, and other characters. Ellington wrote a program containing the following passage: 1

Somehow, I suspect that if Shakespeare were alive today, he might be a jazz fan himself—he’d appreciate the combination of team spirit and informality, of academic knowledge and humor, of all the elements that go into a great jazz performance. And I am sure he would agree with the simple and axiomatic statement that is so important to all of us—when it sounds good, it is good.

The text above appeared in Ellington’s 1973 autobiography “Music Is My Mistress”. He also employed similar expressions over the years.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When It Sounds Good, It Is Good


  1. 1973, Duke Ellington: Music Is My Mistress by Edward Kennedy Ellington, Chapter: Act Five, Section: Jump for Joy Extension, Quote Page 193, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)