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Nat Hentoff, NEA Jazz Master, dies at 91

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Stephen Lovekin
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FilmMagic via Getty Images

The jazz world mourns the loss of jazz critic and producer, author and journalist Nat Hentoff.

Nat Hentoff, a legendary voice journalist and critic, as written in his Village Voice obituary, passed in his Manhattan home on Saturday.  His son Nick says by Twitter, “He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday.”

For fifty years Hentoff wrote articles and criticisms for The Village Voice.  He was passionate for politics but arguably more so for jazz music. 

“He understood in some way that the basic privilege of art is to allow the projection of individual personalities in a highly collected form,” said jazz critic Stanley Crouch in a phone interview with WBGO.  “He spent a lot of time with Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker.  A lot of people actually spoke to him because he was a guy who was actually interested in what they were doing.”

As a producer, critic, and writer, Hentoff was the first non-musician named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts.  He wrote over 30 books in his career and also contributed to The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Downbeat Magazine. Most recently his music column was found in The Wall Street Journal. 

Hentoff’s love of jazz music went beyond his newspaper articles and interviews.  He produced albums with notables like Charles Mingus and Max Roach, contributed liner notes for albums, like the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and used his standing as a respected author to bring light to issues of elderly musicians who lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina. 

He was also big on reading the work of others.  WBGO’s Bob Hennelly spent time with Hentoff as colleagues at the Village Voice.

“He always read books while walking on the streets of New York and he read so many books that people kept sending him more, to the point you had to push the books back just to open the door of his office,” Hennelly said.  “But what I remember most fondly was that his door, as best it could be open because of the books, was always open to those looking for the wisdom of his free association. In a business of vicious competition, he was one guy that would not hesitate to tell you something you wrote was good.”

Nat Hentoff dead at 91 years old.