Since I was eleven years old, I have been nurtured by the life force of jazz musicians. Deeply honored as I am by this award, it could not have come to me but for these creators of this quintessential American language that has become international. As the Constitution – very much including its Bill of Rights – is the orchestration of our liberties, jazz is 'The Sound of Surprise' that is the anthem of our freedom.
One of the major voices in jazz literature, Nat Hentoff wrote about and championed jazz for more than half a century, produced recording sessions for some of the biggest names in jazz, and wrote liner notes for many more. Through his work, he helped to advance the appreciation and knowledge of jazz. It was fitting that he was the first to receive the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.
Hentoff began his education at Northeastern University in Boston, his hometown, and went on to pursue graduate studies at Harvard University. As a graduate student, he hosted a local radio show and became immersed in the Boston jazz scene. In 1953, after completing a Fulbright Fellowship at the Sorbonne in Paris, he spent four years as an associate editor at DownBeat magazine, where he laid the foundation for a truly remarkable career as a jazz journalist. Hentoff was co-editor of Jazz Review from 1958 to 1961, and worked for the Candid label as A&R director from 1960 to 1961, producing recording sessions by jazz icons such as Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and Abbey Lincoln.