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Final Chorus: Jazz and Its Critics

Nat Hentoff weighs in on the legacy of jazz criticism

Long ago, in Miles Davis’ apartment in New York, some musicians—Miles, Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver, among them—were grilling some jazz critics, Martin Williams and me among them. The usually amiable Horace Silver asked rather sharply, “What are the qualifications for a jazz critic?”

“Anybody can be a jazz critic,” I said. “The standards are low.” Most musicians derisively agreed with that answer then—and many still do.

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Originally Published
Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

Over more than 60 years, Nat Hentoff (1925-2017) wrote about music, politics, and many other subjects for a variety of publications, including DownBeat (which he edited from 1953 to 1957), the Village Voice (where he was a weekly columnist from 1958 to 2009), the Wall Street Journal, and JazzTimes, to which he regularly contributed the Final Chorus column from 1998 to 2012. Of the 32 books that he wrote, co-wrote, or edited, 10 focus on jazz. In 2004, Hentoff became the first recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award for jazz advocacy.