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Final Chorus: Keeping Jazz the Center of Gravity

The induction of Miles Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 13 was so significant to the New York Times that it devoted an editorial, “Miles Davis, Genre Bender,” and a long article on that momentous day by Ben Ratliff, “A Jazz Legend Enshrined As a Rock Star?” In celebration, the editorial said, “There were several vibrant versions of Miles Davis. The version installed this week at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of them.”

I did not join in the jubilation. Ben Ratliff did. There’s nothing objective in expressing musical preferences. Duke Ellington so abhorred categorizing music that he didn’t like the term, “jazz.” As for matters of taste, Duke would say firmly, “There’s good music and there’s bad music.” But that dictum-without anything more-simply underlines the subjectivity of taste. Lee Wiley once said of Billie Holiday: “She sounds like her shoes are on too tight.” I greatly enjoyed both of them.

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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.