Nat Hentoff – A Great American

By Frotho Canutus

Nat Hentoff, an American writer, historian and jazz critic died on Saturday at 91. I admired Mr. Hentoff for three reasons, his love of American Jazz, his reverence for the American Constitution and his intellectual independency. I considered Mr. Hentoff somewhat liberal,* but he was never one to tow a party line. If he disagreed with certain generally accepted positions of either party, he spoke out against them. He was honest. Unlike many pundits, he did not operate using double standards.

Here are some things Mr. Hentoff wrote or said over the years.

On his decision to leave Harvard:

bechet-in-france-reduced

Sidney Bechet playing in Paris, France, 1950’s. Bechet, along with Louis Armstrong were two, pioneering, master soloists of early jazz.

“Sidney Bechet was playing at the Savoy Cafe that night, so I closed my books and went down there to hear him. That marked the end of my Harvard ambition. I decided there and then that I had to have a day job that involved writing about jazz.”

On Jazz:

” I consider jazz a life force.”

“I sometimes imagine what my life would have been like if it weren’t for jazz. Once you get into it, you can never get enough of it. I’ll leave you with this—every once in a while writing about my day job I get so down I have to stop. I literally stop and put on a recording, and then that sound, that feeling, that passion for life gets me up and shouting again and I can go back to grim stuff of what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

billie-holiday-sound-of-jazz

Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Gerry Mulligan recording “The Sound of Jazz.” Nat Hentoff was at this amazing session.

On Billie Holiday:

“After it was all over, she was so pleased with how it went — it was live, by the way — she came over and kissed me. And that’s worth more to me than the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

On Charles Mingus:

“Every so often I’d be sitting at my desk, and at about 10 a.m. or so my phone would ring. When I’d answer, I’d hear some music. Well I knew whose music it was. Mingus had that signature sound that you could dig right away. After about 10 minutes, Mingus would come on and ask, ‘I just taped this. What do you think of it?’ What a privilege that was. It was like Beethoven calling to ask, ‘What did you think about my sonata?'”

On President Obama:

NH: “I try to avoid hyperbole, but I think Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had….I am beginning to think that this guy is a phony. Obama seems to have no firm principles that I can discern that he will adhere to. His only principle is his own aggrandizement. This is a very dangerous mindset for a president to have.”

John Whitehead: Do you consider Obama to be worse than George W. Bush?

NH: “Oh, much worse….Obama is a bad man in terms of the Constitution. The irony is that Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago. He would, most of all, know that what he is doing weakens the Constitution.”

On the “free exercise” of religion (First Amendment) and the ACLU:

“The ACLU sees the separation of church and state as so absolute that not a single religious word must be allowed to pass a schoolhouse door.”

On Obama and Abortion:

“One of the worst elements of Obama’s career, which no one talks about, is that he voted twice for a bill that said, if there is a botched abortion, if the child emerges from the womb alive, it should be okay to kill the baby. We have elected a president – twice! – who agrees with infanticide.”

“As Harry Blackmun said when he wrote Roe v. Wade, `Once a child is born, the child has basic constitutional rights: due process, equal protection of the laws.'”

On Bill Clinton:

“I think one thing we share [with my wife] is a complete bottomless disdain for Bill Clinton.”

Rest in peace Mr. Hentoff. If by chance you were wrong about heaven, I hope you are reunited with many of your old jazz friends like Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Coltrane, Paul Desmond and others.

*Nat Hentoff once characterized himself as “a Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer.”

In a 2009 interview with Marc Meyers, Hentoff refers to himself as a “libertarian.”

Sources:

http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/05/interview-nat-hentoff-part-1.html

http://riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu/program/jazz-band-ball-interview-jazz-journalist-nat-hentoff

 

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