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Final Chorus: My Love Affair With the Clarinet

During the so-called Great Depression, aware of my immersion in music, my father bought a small soprano saxophone for me in a pawnshop when I was 10. When I heard Sidney Bechet, I put it away in despair. I turned to the clarinet, starting a lifelong love affair. My model wasn’t Benny Goodman; he had the chops but was deficient in soul. Artie Shaw had both, but for deep, warm waves of sound, there was Irving Fazola (of the Bob Crosby Bob Cats), whom hardly anyone mentions anymore.

For astonishing inventiveness-a surprise in every note and many cliffhangers-there was Pee Wee Russell. Years later, when I recorded him for Candid with Coleman Hawkins, a rejuvenation of their 1929 session, Hawkins told me, “Back then, they said he played ‘funny notes.’ They were not then, and they aren’t now.”

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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.