PEOPLE GET OLD – THEY’RE GONNA DIE – RIP NAT HENTOFF-JAZZ MUSIC WRITER AT VILLAGE VOICE – 91

PEOPLE GET OLD – THEY’RE GONNA DIE – RIP NAT HENTOFF-JAZZ MUSIC WRITER AT VILLAGE VOICE – 91

NOT ONLY WAS NAT A MUSIC CRITIC (FOR JAZZ) BUT HE WAS A BIG LIBERAL & PROGRESSIVE & , SORRY TO SAY, HE HAD TO SEE WHAT WAS GOING DOWN WITH TRUMP & COMPANY BEFORE HE PASSED.

RIP NAT – HE DIED LIKE HE LIVED – LISTENING TO BILLIE HOLLIDAY. MAYBE IT IS BILLIE WHO CAME TO GET HIM FOR THAT NEXT JOURNEY OF LIFE. 

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YOU KNOW YOU’RE FAMOUS & YOU’VE MADE A MARK ON OTHERS WHEN YOU GET A NY TIMES EULOGY!

Nat Hentoff, the author, journalist, jazz critic and civil libertarian who called himself a troublemaker and proved it with a shelf of books and a mountain of essays on free speech, wayward politics, elegant riffs and the sweet harmonies of the Constitution, died on Saturday. He was 91.

His son, Nick Hentoff, announced the death on Twitter.

Mr. Hentoff wrote for The Village Voice for 50 years, and produced articles for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Down Beat magazine and dozens of other publications. He wrote more than 35 books — novels, volumes for young adults and nonfiction works on civil liberties, education and other subjects.

The Hentoff bibliotheca reads almost like an anthology: works by a jazz aficionado, a mystery writer, an eyewitness to history, an educational reformer, a political agitator, a foe of censors, a social critic. He was, indeed, like the jazz he loved — given to improvisations and permutations, a composer-performer who lived comfortably with his contradictions, though adversaries called him shallow and unscrupulous, and even his admirers sometimes found him infuriating, unrealistic and stubborn.

In the 1950s, Mr. Hentoff was a jazz critic in Manhattan, frequenting crowded, smoky nightclubs where musicians played for low pay and audiences ran hot and cold and dreamy. “I knew their flaws as well as their strengths,” he recalled, “but I continued to admire the honesty and courage of their art.”

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In the 1960s and ’70s, he wrote books for young adults, nonfiction on education, magazine profiles on political and religious leaders and essays on racial conflicts and the Vietnam War. He became an activist, too, befriending Malcolm X and joining peace protests and marches for racial equality.

In the 1980s and ’90s, he produced commentaries and books on censorship and other constitutional issues; murder mysteries; portraits of educators and judges; and an avalanche of articles on abortion, civil liberties and other issues. He also wrote a volume of memoirs, “Speaking Freely” (1997).

Critics called his writing passionate, even inspirational. Much of it was based on personal observations, but was not deeply researched or analyzed. His nonfiction took in the sweep of an era of war and social upheaval, while many of his novels caught the turbulence, if not the character, of politically astute young adults.

While his sympathies were usually libertarian, he often infuriated leftist friends with his opposition to abortion, his attacks on political correctness and his criticisms of gay groups, feminists, blacks and others he accused of trying to censor opponents. He relished the role of provocateur, indirectly defending racial slurs, apartheid and pornography.

He had a firebrand’s face: wreathed in a gray beard and a shock of unruly hair, with dark, uncompromising eyes. Once a student asked what made him tick. “Rage,” he replied. But he said it softly, and friends recalled that his invective, in print or in person, usually came wrapped in gentle good humor and respectful tones.

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Mr. Hentoff in his office in Greenwich Village in 2010, as seen in “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” a 2014 documentary about him directed by David L. Lewis. CreditDavid L. Lewis/First Run Features

Nathan Irving Hentoff was born in Boston on June 10, 1925, the son of Simon and Lena Katzenberg Hentoff. His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants, and he grew up in the tough Roxbury section in a vortex of political debate among socialists, anarchists, Communists, Trotskyites and other revolutionaries. He learned early how to rebel.

On Yom Kippur in 1937, the Day of Atonement and fasting, the 12-year-old Nat sat on his porch on a street leading to a synagogue and slowly ate a salami sandwich. It made him sick, and the action outraged his father. He had not done it to scandalize passing Jews who glared at him, he said in a memoir, “Boston Boy” (1986). “I wanted to know how it felt to be an outcast,” he wrote. “Except for my father’s reaction and for getting sick, it turned out to be quite enjoyable.”

He attended Boston Latin, the oldest public school in America, and read voraciously. He discovered Artie Shaw and fell passionately for Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and other jazz legends.

At Northeastern University, he became editor of a student newspaper and turned it into a muckraker. When it dug up a story about trustees backing anti-Semitic publications, the university shut it down. Mr. Hentoff and members of his staff resigned, but he graduated in 1946 with high honors and a lasting devotion to the First Amendment.

After several years with a Boston radio station, he moved to New York in 1953 and covered the jazz scene for Down Beat until 1957. He then began a freelance career that took him into the pages of Esquire, Harper’s, Commonweal, The Reporter, Playboy and The New York Herald Tribune.

In 1958, he began writing for The Village Voice, the counterculture weekly. It became a 50-year gig, despite changes of ownership and editorial direction. Veering from jazz, he wrote weekly columns on civil liberties, politics, education, capital punishment and other topics, all widely syndicated to newspapers. In January 2009, he was laid off by The Voice, but said he would continue to bang away on the electric typewriter in his cluttered Greenwich Village flat, producing articles for United Features and Jewish World Review and reflections on jazz for The Wall Street Journal.

He edited several books on jazz in the 1950s, and was a founding editor of Jazz Review in 1959-60. He wrote for The New Yorker from 1960 to 1986, and for The Washington Post from 1984 to 2000. He also wrote for The Washington Times and other publications. For years he lectured at schools and colleges and was on the faculties of New York University and the New School.

Mr. Hentoff’s first book, “The Jazz Life” (1961), examined social and psychological aspects of jazz. Later came “Peace Agitator: The Story of A. J. Muste” (1963), a biography of the pacifist, and “The New Equality” (1964), on the role of white guilt in racial reforms.

“Jazz Country” (1965) was the first of a series of novels for young adults. It explored the struggles of a young white musician breaking into the black jazz scene. Others included “This School Is Driving Me Crazy” (1976), “Does This School Have Capital Punishment?” (1981) and “The Day They Came to Arrest the Book” (1982). Critics called them polemics on the military draft, censorship and the generation gap in the mouths of characters formed of political clay.

Many of Mr. Hentoff’s later books dealt with the Constitution and those who interpreted and acted on it. In “Living the Bill of Rights” (1998), he profiled the Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, the educator Kenneth Clark and others as he explored capital punishment, prayer in schools, funding for education, race relations and other issues.

In “Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other” (1992), he attacked not only school boards that banned books but also feminists who tried to silence abortion foes or close pornographic bookstores; gay rights groups that boycotted Florida orange juice because its spokeswoman, Anita Bryant, crusaded against gay people; and New York officials who tried to bar South Africa’s rugby team because it represented the land of apartheid.

 

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