Nat Hentoff died this weekend at the age of 91

Here, we revisit David L. Lewis’ 2013 book The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Nat Hentoff on Journalism, Jazz and the First Amendment, an oral history to accompany the film of the same name. What follows is a brief excerpt from the end of the book.


NAT HENTOFF: You never know what impact you have, if any. I fantasized once that years from now, some kid in Des Moines will be going through a library, he’d pick up a book that was miraculously still there, and it meant something to him.

Izzy Stone gave me a lesson when I was a very young reporter. He said, ‘If you want to go into this business to change the world, get another day job.’ Because if you change anything, it’ll only be very cumulatively, in a limited way, and you probably won’t even know about it. So I write to write and hope that some of it has some effect. I’m under no illusion at all—this is not false modesty—that I have much influence, and somewhat more in jazz I think than in trying to keep the Constitution alive.

But the most I feel alive is when I’m writing about what means something to me. My younger son, Tom, the lawyer, who is an expert on intellectual property and libel, he took me to one of these big conferences. And we were sitting there and three lawyers came over. They seemed to be in their thirties, and they said to me, ‘You’re the reason we’re here. We used to read you in the Voice and you made the law seem so exciting.’ So I figured, ‘My goodness.’

I wrote this novel for young readers called Jazz Country. It was the first one I had done for them. And there’s a man who has a jazz band in Hawaii. It’s a very good one—I’ve done the notes for one of his sides. He told me the only reason he came into jazz was reading that book as a kid. And his twelve-year-old at the time had a pocketbook copy of it it his back pocket. Then, just two weeks ago, I hear from a professor in a university in Canada who has a jazz course. And he said, ‘I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Jazz Country.’

So maybe I had some impact on some people.


the pleasures of being out of step cover
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