In 1960 Louis Armstrong and his band The All Stars went to the Belgian Congo, a country in the midst of a brutal civil war. Miraculously, when they began playing, fighting temporarily ceased. Both sides stopped, because everyone wanted to hear Armstrong play.

I guess Nat Hentoff is right then when he calls jazz the universal language.

The illustrious columnist and jazz critic spoke to a full Wein Theater at the Quick Center on Monday evening.

“Some people write about music as if they are standing outside the glass looking in,” said Professor Brian Torf. “Not so with Nat Hentoff. He writes as if he is right there, playing with the band.”

Hentoff led a discussion about jazz and journalism. The night also included questions from the audience and live musical interludes played by music professor Brian Torf, including songs by such prominent jazz artists as John Coltrane.

Born in the Roxbury section of Boston in 1925, Hentoff was always influenced by jazz. He recalled one afternoon as an 11-year-old, playing his clarinet by a window on a summer afternoon. A child in the street below yelled up and asked him if he wanted to come to a session to jam. He went, and was blown away. That child was Ruby Braff, today known as the foremost lyrical horn player in jazz.

“It was then that I knew if I was ever going to be a part of this scene it wasn’t going to be as a musician,” said Hentoff. “It was going to be to record what these people had to say, what lifted me up.”

After graduating from Northeastern and Harvard, Hentoff moved to New York City at the age of 28, where he befriended the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and John Coltrane.

Today, Hentoff is known to fans as the weekly columnist for “The Village Voice,” and the contributed music columnist for the “Wall Street Journal.” Additionally he has appeared in publications such as “The New York Times” and the “New Yorker,” where he was a staff writer for 25 years.

He has authored many books about jazz, politics, and civil rights, as well as written the liner notes for albums by John Coltrane, Miles Davis.

The heyday of jazz has come and gone, but Hentoff insist that jazz is not dead.

“There are always times when a critic will say jazz is dying, or jazz is dead,” said Hentoff. “But it’s not.”

Jazz, he insist, continues to live on in spirit and in the younger artists worldwide that preserve it’s tradition, such as trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Annette Cohen, and the band Diva.

“Jazz is the universal language,” said Hentoff. And in that respect, he emphasized, it will never die.

“There’s a feeling in this music of always moving,” he said. “It’s the pulse of life.”

Can’t get enough jazz? Go to Gonzaga Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 18 for a night of poetry set to the music of John Coltrane.

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