Sunday, January 8, 2017

We Heard Ya Talkin', Nat

Discussing jazz and politics, from left, are Cecil Taylor, Ben Gore, Hentoff, Paul Krassner, Leroi Jones, and owner Art D'Lugoff, at the Village Gate in 1965. Photo by Jerry Engel/New York Post Archives

By now you've all heard about the passing of writer, columnist, critic, producer and activist Nat Hentoff. At 91 years of age, Brother Hentoff had plenty of time to make his mark, and he did so not only in jazz but also in civil rights, politics and other relevant fields. I don't need to tell jazz fans about his contributions to the music. I'm sure nearly all of us has at least one of his volumes about the art on his or her bookshelves. I started with "Hear Me Talkin' to Ya," an oral history the then 30-year-old Hentoff put together with Nat Shapiro in 1955. It was not only an excellent introduction to the music and its players for a callow youth such as myself, but it was also a great read.

So here's a tribute to the great scribe, something that I came across about a year ago in one of my forays into the Hudson Valley's collection of second-hand stores and thrift shops. It's a steel-backed acetate disc, the kind I've featured on this blog before, usually in the form of home recordings. This one, though, is a professionally made audio transcription of a radio broadcast. It was cut by Ace Recording Studios in Boston, probably in mid-April of 1952, and captures a 30-minute program hosted by a young, soft-spoken DJ. That DJ? Nat Hentoff.
Yes, this offering is a transcription of Hentoff's jazz radio show, "The Record Album," heard on WMEX-AM in Boston. It's marked "Interview," and when I found it I was hoping that it would have Hentoff conversing with a giant like Duke Ellington or Count Basie or maybe even Dizzy Gillespie or ... gasp! ... Charlie Parker. But it turned out that the featured guest was one of traditional jazz's often overlooked re-creators, trombonist Wilbur DeParis. I was disappointed, I confess, but then I listened to the interview. Mr. DeParis was an erudite, perceptive, articulate gentleman whose views on jazz were much closer to my own than I would ever have suspected. I also realized that this is very likely the only audio interview with DeParis that has survived, so that alone makes it special. 

I have no idea what the provenance of this disc may be. Did it come from Nat's personal collection? From a purging of the WMEX archive? We'll never know. But it's a marvelous period piece from early in Hentoff's remarkable career, and it captures the sound of live radio from back in the day. The record store ad that Nat delivers to open the show will definitely have collectors salivating. If only we could make it on down to the Book Clearing House on Boylston Street for a bagfull of those albums selling for less than a buck each!

A word of warning about the sound: This disc has been seriously mistreated over its six decades of existence, and the sound is hissy, scratchy and clicky throughout much of the conversation. But the words are clear and there are no skips or dropouts. It's worth a download, if only to hear once, because it's a sliver of jazz history and because it's Hentoff. Nat mentions the DeParis brothers' version of "When the Saints Go Marching In," and I've added their studio recording of it below, just to give you a little music to go with all the words. As always, these files come straight from the original disc to your ears!

Wilbur DeParis Interview
with Nat Hentoff
"The Record Album," WMEX-AM
Mid-April 1952, Boston MA

Find it here:


  1. Book Clearing House! That was my the store owned by my uncle, Manny Josephs. I helped pack up the place when its time had passed in the early `70s. The guy who ran his record department filled my bag with Miles, Bill Evans, John McLaughlin, seeding a lifelong pursuit. Peace, Nat.

    1. Wow! You never know who's out there looking at Gems. Thanks for the contribution, Daniel. I confess I'm envious of your bag of LPs, but you were lucky to have been connected to what must have been a really interesting store. Nat says some nice things about it, and I'm sure your uncle must have moved a lot of those 78-rpm albums that week!

  2. what a rare find! thanks for remember mr. Hentoff!

    Keep boppin´

    1. Synchronicity, Marcel! Just another reason why it pays to look through piles of scratchy old records!

  3. Wow.
    Thank you so much for this jewel.
    Big hug