"Since I was eleven years old, I have been nurtured by the life force of jazz musicians. Deeply honored as I am by this award, it could not have come to me but for these creators of this quintessential American language that has become international. As the Constitution – very much including its Bill of Rights – is the orchestration of our liberties, jazz is 'The Sound of Surprise' that is the anthem of our freedom."
One of the major voices in jazz literature, Nat Hentoff has written about and championed jazz for more than half a century, produced recording sessions for some of the biggest names in jazz, and written liner notes for many more. Through his work, he has helped to advance the appreciation and knowledge of jazz. It is fitting that he is the first to receive the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.
Hentoff began his education at Northeastern University in Boston, his hometown, and went on to pursue graduate studies at Harvard University. As a graduate student, he hosted a local radio show and became immersed in the Boston jazz scene. In 1953, after completing a Fulbright Fellowship at the Sorbonne in Paris, he spent four years as an associate editor at DownBeat magazine, where he laid the foundation for a truly remarkable career as a jazz journalist. Hentoff was coeditor of Jazz Review from 1958 to 1961, and worked for the Candid label as A&R director from 1960 to 1961, producing recording sessions by jazz icons such as Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and Abbey Lincoln.
His books on music include Jazz Country (1965), Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Twelve of the World's Foremost Jazz Critics and Scholars (with Albert J. McCarthy, 1974), Boston Boy: Growing Up with Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions (1986), Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music (1995), and American Music Is (2004). His work has appeared in such venerable publications as the New York Times, New Republic, JazzTimes, and New Yorker, where he was a staff writer for more than 25 years. In addition to his status as a renowned jazz historian and critic, Hentoff also is an expert on First Amendment rights, criminal justice, and education and has written a number of books on these topics.
In 1980, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in education as well as a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for his coverage of the law and criminal justice. Five years later, he was awarded an honorary degree from Northeastern University. The multidisciplinary body of work that Hentoff has produced represents an articulation of the interconnectedness of the ideals of constitutional rights and jazz music and is without a doubt a major contribution to the dialogue surrounding the uniquely American jazz tradition. Currently, Hentoff writes about music for the Wall Street Journal and has a column in the United Media syndicate, which distributes the column to 250 papers nationwide.
Jazz Country, Harper Collins, 1965
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