Nat Hentoff, the most famous and influential jazz writer in the history of the music, died yesterday. He was 91, and his death was announced by his son Nick via social media. “He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday,” Nick wrote on Twitter.
Equally lauded for his sometimes-controversial writing on the essentiality of civil liberties, Hentoff’s lengthy and prolific career saw him publish everything from memoirs to young-adult novels to liner notes for classic jazz recordings (and some canonical titles out of jazz, like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan). For decades he contributed a syndicated column to the Village Voice, where he covered mostly political and social issues, and he worked for DownBeat, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Washington Times and many other publications. He had an enduring tenure as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and from 1998 to 2012 he wrote a monthly column for JazzTimes, called “Final Chorus,” which appeared on the last page of each issue. In 2004, Hentoff became the first recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award for jazz advocacy.