Jazz Critic Nat Hentoff 1925-2017 R.I.P.

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The music world loses a genuine lion of journalism.

By Fred Mills

He was perhaps the greatest, most intuitive music critic ever—not simply for the jazz milieu. Nathan Irving “Nat” Hentoff passed away Saturday, Jan. 7, at the age of 91, of natural causes at his NYC apartment, his son Tom told the Associated Press. Hentoff is said to have “died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday, his son Nick tweeted.

According to Rolling Stone, the Boston-born Hentoff was first a radio personality with a weekly jazz program in Boston.

“In 1953, Hentoff moved to New York City and began writing for jazz magazine Down Beat; he was fired from that job in 1957 after attempting to employ an African-American writer. The following year, Hentoff joined the Village Voice, where he served as columnist for the next 50 years, writing about a myriad of subjects involving politics, education, religion and, most importantly to him, freedom of speech and First Amendment issues.

“In addition to his syndicated column, Hentoff continued to write about jazz, co-founding the Jazz Review and authoring over a handful of books on the genre, including The Jazz Makers (with Nat Shapiro), The Jazz Life and Jazz Is.”

Hentoff was a prolific writer, not just about jazz, publishing scores of books, writing for numerous magazines and newspapers, and even penning the liner notes for 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. He wrote liners for a number of jazz albums as well.

In 2014, a documentary about Hentoff, The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff, was released. Below, watch the trailer, as well as a couple of interviews in which he weighs in on jazz, naturally, as well as free speech and—timely enough—hate crimes.

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