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Final Chorus: Jazz Is an International Language

Long ago, between sets by the Modern Jazz Quartet, John Lewis and I were speculating about the future of jazz. Like who – if anyone – would be the next Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. We agreed that jazz would keep on being the sound of surprise anyway, without a new colossus.

But then John surprised me. “If there is a next one,” he said, “he could be a sideman taking a chorus as we speak in a club somewhere in Romania.” I’d heard impressive players from abroad who might not have been able to speak English but were fluent in this international language. For instance, on a recording, a joyous big band in Siberia that could have warmed up its remotest hamlets.

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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.