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At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene by Nat Hentoff

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“I expect that if anything I’ve written about this music lasts,” writes Nat Hentoff in his latest jazz collection, “it will be the interviews I’ve done with the musicians for more than fifty years.” Hentoff’s interviews-such as those with Jon Faddis, Ron Carter and Clark Terry, collected here-are informed and entertaining, casual but insightful chats.

But Hentoff, whose “day job” he says is covering First Amendment issues, is wrong. It’s essays such as those comprising the bulk of this anthology, previously published in JazzTimes, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, that will survive the writer, who is now 85. Hentoff, as much as any of the musicians he admires, has lived the jazz life; he understands the jazz mindset and the relationship of jazz not only to the larger culture but to the larger world. Not so much a critic as a chronicler, Hentoff is at home within the music, knows where it’s been and how it got here, and he revels in it. His gift is his ability to pass along his knowledge, wisdom and elation without sinking to condescension or verbosity. Reading Hentoff, who personally befriended many of jazz’s most legendary creators and has witnessed personally many of its landmark moments, is akin to listening to war stories from a still-sharp old uncle-except that Hentoff’s stories are better.

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