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Nat Hentoff on the Jazz Foundation of America

When the jazz family is suffering

Starting as a fan, I never knew much of anything about the lives of jazz musicians off the bandstand until I got to know some of them as a reporter and critic. Having grown up during the Great Depression of the ’30s, I quickly became aware of how hard it was for so many of them to make a living.

Coming upon Jimmy Rowles when he was long between gigs, I asked him what he was going to do. “I wait for the phone to ring,” he said. And I heard of players who died desolate and broke-like pianist Wynton Kelly, the singular sideman to Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and more, who died alone at 39.

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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.