Nat Hentoff seemed like a constant in US jazz commentary, ever-present, tough-minded yet passionate, always the music's true champion. In a long life, he wrote books, some 35 of them, including novels and memoirs, hosted a radio show, worked for Down Beat magazine, co-founded The Jazz Review, spotted Monk early and befriended Mingus, oversaw significant sessions for the Candid label, created a torrent of articles and sleeve-note essays and quite simply never let up.
His death on 7 January in Manhattan at the age of 91 has stilled not only one of the great voices in jazz writing but removed a force for libertarian activism and free speech, this embodied in his 50-year association with the Village Voice, New York's counterculture weekly. Calling himself a 'troublemaker', Hentoff was asked what prompted him to concentrate on sometimes unpopular causes. "Rage," he replied.
From his earliest days in Boston, Hentoff strove to get close to the musicians who made the music, citing drummer Jo Jones' assertion that this was essential for truth and understanding, collecting their stories in 'Hear Me Talkin' To Ya' the seminal oral history he compiled with Nat Shapiro in 1955 and keeping them uppermost in his books and articles.
When Marc Myers asked how he might like his writing to be remembered, Hentoff suggested something like, "You could hear the voices of the musicians in just about everything he wrote." The first non-musician to be made an NEA Jazz Master, Hentoff who was of Russian Jewish origin and three times married, is survived by his third wife Margot and four children.
– Peter Vacher