Sunday, January 4, 2009

Jazz Is

It didn't take long for the first truly wretched decision of 2009 to happen (outside of the Israeli offensive into Gaza, but that's another rant), as iconic polymath Nat Hentoff has been let go by the Village Voice, the NYC weekly he's maintained a column at for the past 50 years. The old cost-cutting saw was given as the reason for his being included within a round of job cuts at the Voice. Given the current precarious environment traditional print media finds itself in, layoffs within the industry don't come as a huge surprise, but releasing Hentoff when he's 83 and in possession of such an augustly tenure at the paper is pretty tacky. Mysteriously, the just-okay Tom Robbins emerged unscathed.

Hentoff: giving your Pop Pop a run for his money in the terrific sweepstakes since 1925, see.

If you're not familiar with the man's career, he's done yeoman's work advocating pretty much everything that's important and/or cool. Yeah, that's an overstatement, but here's a quick overview of Nat's achievements:

  • Hentoff's known as perhaps the foremost jazz authority of the past 60 years who isn't an actual musician; he's advocated, recorded, presented, and written tirelessly about the form, and his credibility was bronzed a few years back upon being the first non-player given the Jazz Master designation by the National Endowment for the Arts. Nat was a great help in introducing me to jazz as 'the sound of surprise' with his liner-note essays for albums I bought over the years, which is actually where I first stumbled upon him personally. By the way, is there really anything cooler than the jazz sleeve essay? C'mon.

  • He's been a tireless journalistic attack-dog for First Amendment rights, and actually testified on behalf of Lenny Bruce at the profane comedian's trial (some would call it a witch-hunt) back in the 1960s.

  • Even in his twilight years, Nat's been one of the most tenacious, effective critics of the Bush administration during it's interminable time in office. Not given to the embarassing rhetorical propensity that has crept into print media from the shit-show that is cable news over the past couple of decades, his dignified-yet-pointed pieces exhibit the thorough research, shoe-leather journalism, and sheer instinct that can only be procured through years of experience.

  • He was immortalized on a hilarious Patton Oswalt stand-up riff about bookish NPR types (see the underrated No Reason to Complain DVD performance). Ah, I love me some Patton.

I've been profundly depressed since hearing the news, so spent today at work staging a bit of a mini-celebration of Hentoff's career; I scoured the web and found hours of audio and YouTube interview material (including his inclusion in a 1995 Charlie Rose roundtable with Allen Ginsberg, which was the poet's last media appearance before his death a few weeks later - skip ahead to 22:35 in that clip), and played it in the background while busting fraudsters. It really served to cheer me up, and it's not like Nat's dead or anything; he's still going to be contributing to other outlets. Still, I'll greatly miss his Voice column.

Even while doing the press rounds expounding on his recent firing, though, the man still has things to say. This is from the NPR piece I linked to above:

"It's happening more and more: Those small papers in those small towns, some of them are folding," Hentoff says. "And that, of course, means... the Internet — which is fine, except what you get most of the time is people going to sites and blogs [with] which they already agree.

This very subject is fodder for an upcoming post of mine: the ideological divide in the wake of traditional print media's demise. Sounds like a barn-burner, hey? Well, I think it's interesting, and will spruce it up, I promise (I plan on alternating between goofy and serious pieces with this blog). By the way, I realize that I'm out W-Axl-Roseing Chinese Democracy, but the 2008 music lists are on tap for this week. I think I was overly ambitious in terms of length and variety of subjects, and may actually break it up into two pieces over a couple of days for the sake of readibility.

Take care, and, in conclusion: fuck snow. I'm writing this on Sunday night, and so Vancouverites will get that.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, this Vancouverite gets it alright. I've shoveled more snow in the past 10 days than I have in the past 10 years.

    Thanks a bunch for this post, Jared. I find myself unfamiliar with Hentoff, and it looks like I've got some reading to do. I'm not sure I agree with him on his 'most people go to sites/blogs they agree with' statement though. Hey I wonder if he'd consider blogging, come to that ...