BOSTON BOY by Nat Hentoff


Growing Up With Jazz And Other Rebellious Passions
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Jazz critic and social writer Hentoff recalls his early years and formative influences in this stream-of-consciousness memoir. In his boyhood, the charmingly corrupt Mayor James Michael Curley ruled City Hall, the sermons of Father Coughlin ruled the radio (at least on Sundays), and the neighborhood of Roxbury, where Nat grew up, was already considered a ghetto--for Jews. Today a regular contributor to the Village Voice, Hentoff reveals himself as a rebel from way back, at age 13 organizing his fellow candystore clerks (and winning them a 10¢ wage increase). But life was mainly bounded by the twin "J's" of Jazz and Judaism. The young Hentoff collected records even before he owned a record player, so entranced was he by the new sounds of Duke Ellington and Fats Waller: "There were more different colors in this music than in all the Boston Museum of Fine Arts." The relationship with religion was a more troubled love affair, but Hentoff never failed to thrill at the rabbi's prayer-chant at services or the klezmorim musicians that performed during weddings. The link between the love of the Yiddish bands and the Big Bands is not, he insists, that far-fetched. "So where do you think Benny Goodman came from?," a klezmer clarinetist asks him. When it sticks to memories like that, the book is charming and moving. But as it goes along, Boston Boy shrinks in scope, becomes more of a recital of the increasingly smart-ass author's triumphs--Hentoff receiving the confidences of wise old jazz musicians, Hentoff conning the Fulbright Scholarship office into early acceptance. Especially self-indulgent is a section on a Jewish high-school student in 1984, who endured threats and hate mall because she refused to recite the Hedge of Allegiance. Hentoff has extensively written about the incident ever since; the sole rationale for its inclusion here seems to be his stated credo that "Ever since [college], everyone's free-speech rights have been my business." Such egotism ultimately sours Boston Boy. In the grand scheme of things, Hentoff's life isn't exactly time-capsule material; even so, this jazz buff should learn the difference between memoir-writing and personal horn-blowing.
Pub Date: April 15th, 1986
ISBN: 096796752X
Page count: 222pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1986


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