I was traveling for most of yesterday and just learned jazz critic Nat Hentoff died. He was 91. What a man. Some of his writings are on reserve for my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” class.
I first met Nat while I was promoting my second book, a biography on Grant Green, my late father in the law, at the Miami Book Fair. This was shortly after the book was published in 1999. I was a journalist myself at the time and by then, not afraid of talking to most people. But I had seen his name on liner notes and so many other places. I recall mostly wanting people to just buy my book and go home after my reading.
Our paths crossed in a hospitality room for the book fair. He had a plaid jacket and looked very New York. I introduced myself. He extended his hand. He was there promoting his memoir Speaking Freely, his most recent publication. Before we parted, he wrote his phone number on a sheet of paper from a notepad. I still have it.
I called him and loved his honesty. He told me a critic’s job was a necessary one. He told me he “much preferred” listening to Grant than Wes Montgomery. He was in good company. In the documentary on Grant, George Benson said he and Wes both named Grant as their favorite guitarist.
Nat said he liked Grant because he “always told the story…whereas a number of musicians…are so technically skilled that much of their playing is to show you how skilled they are…Grant…was talking to me.”
You were talking to me, Nat. And here I am almost 20 years later still thanking you. I sent you an invite to the film’s premiere at the Harlem International Film Festival. It would have been great to see you. Here’s to you and Grant finally catching up. I hope.
PS I hope to screen the film at the University of Alabama this semester.