Nat Hentoff (Stephen Lovekin / Getty)
Nat Hentoff, the legendary former jazz critic and columnist for the Village Voice newspaper, died Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 91.
His son, Nick Hentoff, confirmed his death in a tweet. “Sad to report the death of my father tonight at the age of 91," he wrote. "He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday.”
Hentoff was a jazz critic and columnist for the Village Voice for 50 years. He was let go from the paper in 2008. He told NPR at the time that condolences he received from readers afterward were "like reading one's obituary while you're still alive." He continued to write, and over his long career, his articles appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Downbeat magazine.
Hentoff told NPR in an interview in 2010 that he fell in love with jazz at an early age. He said he was hooked as an 11-year-old after hearing the song "Nightmare" by Artie Shaw coming through an open door at a record store. "It just reached inside me. I rushed into the store, 'What was that?'"
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He was born June 10, 1925, in Boston. He started hosting jazz shows on the radio and then became a columnist for Downbeat in 1952. In 1958, he co-founded “The Jazz Review” and began his long stretch working for the Village Voice.
Hentoff was also well-known as a civil libertarian and often wrote about issues such as freedom of speech. He was the author of over 30 books during his career. His novel “The Day They Came To Arrest the Book” in 1982 took on the issue of censorship and the First Amendment.
Hentoff was an early admirer of Bob Dylan, and he wrote the sleeve notes for Dylan’s 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” Hentoff wrote, "Throughout everything he writes and sings, there is the surge of a young man, looking into as many diverse scenes and people as he can find … and of a man looking for himself."
He also wrote the liner notes for albums by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Charles Mingus.
In 2004, Hentoff was the first nonmusician to be named a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts. A documentary about his life was released in 2014.