National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Nat Hentoff

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photo of Nat Hentoff

NEA Jazz Master Nat Hentoff. Portrait by Tom Pich

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Nat Hentoff, critic, journalist, and producer. In 2004, Hentoff was selected as the first recipient of the A. B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy. We join the jazz community in mourning his death while celebrating his life and many contributions to advancing appreciation and knowledge of jazz.

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. His career included four years as an associate editor at DownBeat magazine, co-editor of Jazz Review from 1958 to 1961, and A&R director at the Candid label as 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 the New York Times, New Republic, JazzTimes, Wall Street Journal, and New Yorker, where he was a staff writer for more than 25 years. Hentoff also was an expert on First Amendment rights, criminal justice, and education and wrote a number of books on these topics.

In a 2003 interview with the NEA on being named a Jazz Master, Hentoff said, “…I get burnt out writing about the Constitution and what's happening to it, or something personal, and I'll put on Billie or Ben Webster or Wycliffe Gordon, and it lifts you up. It's more than therapy; it's the life force. Jazz is the life force for the musicians and for the listeners, and that's why it's invaluable.”

For more information on Nat Hentoff, including the full interview, visit


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