Nat Hentoff: The Never-Ending Ball
AAJ: Nat, you were let go by The Village Voice at the end of '08, after fifty years of service; that must have been a hard blow to take, no?
NH: It surprised me a little, but what the heck, I've been fired from some of the most prestigious publications in America. I was at The New Yorker for many years, I was fired there. I was at The Washington Post for fifteen or sixteen years. It's a long list. Sometimes I tell young reporters: "Don't get down, there's always something going on."I finally wound up at the Cato Institute in Washington. It's a libertarian place; I write for them and I use their enormous research resources. Finally Tony Ortega, the editor of The Village Voice asked me to come backat least once a week or soand that's okay, because one of my big passions is education and I've covered the Public School system in New York since the '50s. So that's what I write about for The Voice.
I've got so much to write about; I still have my column, which is syndicated around the country, I write about music for The Wall Street Journal and JazzTimes. I'm working on a book called Is this America?, which I don't think either Dick Cheney or Obama is going to like. I'm about to turn eighty-five and I've never had so many deadlines.
AAJ: You've known, befriended and interviewed many of jazz's greats; is there anyone you regret not interviewing?
NH: I'm sure I missed some of them and I'm sure at two in the morning I'm going to be haunted by this question. I knew a lot of them even though I didn't have the space or the time to interview them. To me, knowing them made their music come even more alive.
AAJ: What advice would you give to aspiring young jazz writers?
NH: Until recently I did interviews at a club here in New York, called The Blue Note, for television, and I would ask interviewees about that and they invariably said journalists have to know more about music; well, that takes care of me. Sure, you really ought to try to learn more but the main thing is to listen. Duke Ellington once said something to me: "You know, I don't want people [who] listen to our music to analyze it, I want them to open themselves to the music and feel it." That's the way to listen, and then you begin to be able to feel it and if you can put this into words then you've contributed something.
AAJ: Taking a leaf out of your own book, is there anything you would like to add about At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene?
NH: As I wrote all of this I was seeing them and hearing them, which made me very pleased. One of the great things about being a reporter is that you get to meet people you would otherwise never meet. I became friends, for example with Malcolm Xwhich was to our mutual surprise and an extraordinary guy called John Cardinal O'Connor in New York, and I also got to know Supreme Court Justice William Brennan very well. But the ones I most learned from as people are some of the musicians I've known; most of them are in the book so in a sense it was like having a soundtrack, an emotion track to my whole life. I'm glad I lived long enough to get this one out. But I still keep writing.
Nat Hentoff, At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene(UCP, 2010)
Nat Hentoff, American Music Is (Da Capo, 2004)
Nat Hentoff, Boston Boy: Growing up with Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions (Paul Dry Books, 2001)
Nat Hentoff, Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music (Harper Perennial,1995)
Nat Hentoff, Jazz Is (Limelight, 1976)
Nat Hentoff, Journey Into Jazz (Puntam Publishing Group,1971)
Nat Hentoff, Jazz Country (Rupert Hart Davis, 1965)
Nat Hentoff, The Jazz Life (Da Capo, 1961)
Nat Hentoff/Nat Shapiro, The Jazz Makers (Rinehart. 1957)
Nat Hentoff/Nat Shapiro, Hear Me Talkin' To Ya (Dover, 1955)
Pages 1, 7: Marilynn K. Lee, The New York Times
Page 3: R. Andrew Lepley, RAL Photography