Nat(han Irving) Hentoff The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

By any standard—and surely these days books for the 14-year-old upwards ought to stand up as adult fare—[Jazz Country] is an excellent novel. Not only does Nat Hentoff show with great perception the development of one boy's understanding of other people, but without any strain, without recourse to either hip jargon or learned explanations, he opens for the uninitiated the significance of the world of jazz….

Tom is a nice guy, making good grades at school and with the kind of calm, sympathetic parents every teenager must long to have. The narrative comes clearly and straightforwardly from his lips. "Your life has been too easy for you to be making it as a jazz musician", the Negro bass player in the great Moses Godfrey's band tells him after hearing his talented but heartless trumpet playing. "And too white", adds his militant wife, Mary. By the end of the book Tom knows a lot more about life and how difficult it is to be both a jazz musician and black. The race relations material in Jazz Country is not a crude emotional appeal for togetherness because we all like music. We see the white cops beating up the black man for no better reason than because he is black, but we are also made to visualize the dilemma of the educated Negro whose sole desire is to live his own life as an individual but who constantly feels guilty that he is not a champion of his race at its time of destiny.

"Top of the Pops," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3351, May 19, 1966, p. 442.∗