The Troy Street Observer

Nat Hentoff: Remembering a Boston Boy

“Whaddya need? I’m on a deadline.” Thus would begin my first phone conversations with Nat Hentoff, the jazz lover, journalist and self-described troublemaker who died in his New York City home on January 7, 2017. He was 91.

That was Hentoff’s standard gruff greeting, and all who heard it quickly learned there was no time for small talk. You asked your question, got your answer, and went on your way.

Nat Hentoff at WMEX, 1946. Photo by Red Wolf.

This changed when I asked him about Counterpoint, a newsletter that he wrote and produced in 1947. He asked how I learned about it, and I told him that the Dorothy Prescott Papers in the Library of Traditional Jazz at the University of New Hampshire had an almost-complete set. That got him started—Dorothy had been a good friend and fellow member of the Jazz Society, a group of enthusiasts who staged concerts in 1944-46. The long-forgotten Counterpoint carried me past the deadline greeting.

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Dec 29, 1949: Down Beat, DeFranco, and Fiedler

Sometimes it’s all about the buzz, and so it was at the Hi-Hat on December 29, 1949. Buddy DeFranco was in town for a long stretch over the holidays, and he was a hot commodity at that time. Down Beat published the list of winners of its annual readers poll in the last issue of the year, and that hit newsstands while DeFranco was at the Hi-Hat. Beat readers voted him the number one clarinet man, and it wasn’t the first time, either. DeFranco had won every year since 1945.

Photo of Arthur Fiedler and Buddy DeFranco
DeFranco receiving award from Fiedler at the Hi-Hat. Photo Downbeat Magazine.

With DeFranco were vibist Teddy Charles, pianist Harvey Leonard, guitarist Perry Lopez, bassist Teddy Kotick, and drummer Frank DeVito. Boston guitarist Frankie Rue led the house trio that alternated sets with DeFranco’s sextet.

Ray Barron was Down Beat’s Boston correspondent in 1949, but journalism wasn’t his strong suit. Public relations was, and he saw the timing of the Down Beat award as an opportunity. He arranged to have the award presented to DeFranco at the Hi-Hat, and for the presenter to be none other than Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler.

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ASRC Certificate of Merit for The Boston Jazz Chronicles

It was Detroit’s year, not Boston’s, in the jazz category of the 2013 Association for Recorded Sound Collection awards. I was recently notified that The Boston Jazz Chronicles was awarded one of three Certificates of Merit for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research in Jazz. The two top awards went to books about musicians originally from Detroit. The winner for Best History went to Rob Palmer’s Mr. P.C.: The Life and Music of Paul Chambers (Equinox Publishing), while Best Discography went to Gary Carner’s Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography (Scarecrow Press). Congratulations to the winners, and my grateful thanks to the ASRC for continuing to recognize those of us documenting activity that took place outside of New York and L.A.

The university presses usually do quite well when the ASRC hands out its awards, so it is something of a departure for the association to recognize both a history and a discography published by other presses. In fact, it’s the first time since 2006 that a book from a non-university press has captured the best history award.


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August 30, 2006: The Album Covers of Burt Goldblatt

Cover of Ball at Bethlehem
Ball at Bethlehem with Braff, Bethlehem 1034, 1955

The multitalented Burt Goldblatt was born in Dorchester in 1924, and was residing in Hopkinton, Mass., at the time of his death on August 30, 2006. He was successful as an illustrator, caricaturist, photographer, and author, but many record lovers know him primarily as a designer of album covers. He designed some real beauties, such as the ones here, done for Boston jazz artists.

Goldblatt served in the Army during World War II, then studied at the Massachusetts College of Art. He worked in a print shop and mastered the technical processes of printing, freelanced as a commercial artist, and taught himself photography. He moved to New York in 1953 and for the next two years worked as a designer for CBS Television. He worked as a freelance photographer, art director at Metronome magazine, and album cover designer—jazz album covers, because that was his music. The bulk of his work was for labels like Savoy, Storyville, and Bethlehem.

Cover of Lee Konitz at Storyville
Lee Konitz at Storyville, Storyville LP 304, 1954

When Goldblatt hit his stride, his covers achieved visual impact by combining simplicity and perspective—he’d use one strong image and a minium of type, and his point of view in that image would be from above or below, but rarely straight on. And he was able to experiment and innovate within his minimal designs, as with the Mariano and King LPs and the Braff EP here. Francis Wolff at Blue Note learned much from Goldblatt. There are many website designers today who could profit from his lessons as well.

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June 10: Birthdays for Frazier and Hentoff

Two Boston-born icons of jazz journalism share a June 10 birthday, George Frazier in 1911, and Nat Hentoff in 1925. Happy 88, Nat!

Frazier and Hentoff were part of a gang of influential journalists with Boston ties (George Simon, Mike Levin, Bill Coss, Dom Cerulli, Dan Morgenstern) who determined how jazz would be covered at Down Beat and Metronome, the two major magazines reporting on it at mid-century.

Both grew up in homes of modest means, Frazier in South Boston and Hentoff in Roxbury. Neither got very far as a clarinetist. Both attended Boston Latin High School. Both made a career out of being outspoken and controversial, and both were implacable foes of Jim Crow and the abuse of power. Their musical common denominator was trumpeter Frankie Newton.

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