At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene

At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene

At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene

At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene


Nat Hentoff, renowned jazz critic, civil liberties activist, and fearless contrarian--"I'm a Jewish atheist civil-libertarian pro-lifer"--has lived through much of jazz's history and has known many of jazz's most important figures, often as friend and confidant. Hentoff has been a tireless advocate for the neglected parts of jazz history, including forgotten sidemen and -women. This volume includes his best recent work--short essays, long interviews, and personal recollections. From Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman and Quincy Jones, Hentoff brings the jazz greats to life and traces their art to gospel, blues, and many other forms of American music. At the Jazz Band Ball also includes Hentoff's keen, cosmopolitan observations on a wide range of issues. The book shows how jazz and education are a vital partnership, how free expression is the essence of liberty, and how social justice issues like health care and strong civil rights and liberties keep all the arts--and all members of society--strong.


If you’ve ever had the chance to speak with Nat Hentoff, you won’t be surprised to learn that he has a background in radio—he speaks clearly and decisively, with never an “um” or “uhh.” As he recounted in a 2007 interview with jazz musician and historian Loren Schoenberg:

By luck I got into radio. I had worked in a candy store with a guy named Ed
Blackman, who later became an announcer before he became a professor of reli
gion, and there was an opening at this radio station. I was a staff announcer. I
also covered politics…. But I got them to let me do a jazz program on time they
couldn’t sell [i.e., when they had no sponsors]. That led to my inviting up [Duke]
Ellington, Rex Stewart and all those people. [I] got to know them somewhat… It
was called The Jazz Album. … a lot of the tapes are now at the University of New
Hampshire…. a woman, Dorothy Cook, who came to live there, she and her
husband had taped the shows.

Those taped shows must be a gold mine, and reading this collection gives one some of the flavor of what Nat has to offer as a jazz commentator. But before we say more about that, a little background on Nat’s life might be in order. Nat was born on June 10, 1925, in Boston, and, as he recounts in his memoir Boston Boy, his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, Simon Hentoff and Lena Katzenberg. His younger sister went to Girls’ Latin School. She’s now Janet Krauss, a professor at Fairfield University and a published poet. Nat came to New York in 1953 to work as the city’s editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat until 1957. He has been in Manhattan ever since.


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