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Lee Mergner Remembers Nat Hentoff

6.10.25 – 1.7.17 (JazzTimes publisher pays tribute to noted writer, critic and columnist)

Nat Hentoff (photo by Tom Pich/courtesy of the NEA)
Nat Hentoff (photo by Tom Pich/courtesy of the NEA)

I met Nat Hentoff at the 1997 conference of the International Association for Jazz Education, on an interview panel hosted by jazz DJ Steve Schwartz. At that time Nat had been on a hiatus of sorts from jazz writing, but after the session he told me he’d really like to get back into it. Shortly thereafter he came onboard at JT as the magazine’s back-page columnist, and he continued to write his “Final Chorus” for the next 14 years. His first piece was on the Reverend John Gensel and the jazz ministry he created with Duke Ellington at Saint Peter’s Church. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that his last contribution was about a young-adult novel on Duke.

Even though my job title was and is publisher, I was Nat’s personal typist, because he refused to use e-mail. He’d fax his typewritten column, replete with handwritten corrections like hieroglyphics, but I rarely complained, because you can learn a lot about a writer’s style by retyping his or her work. Nat’s style was clear as day—direct and plainspoken and not the least bit florid. He wrote like he talked.

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