Jazz bass legend Milt Hinton used to say, “A person has to have lived to play great jazz…Unless you’ve lived, what could you say on your instrument?” Well, Milt Hinton had plenty to say in his thousands of recordings, with his lively storytelling, and in some 60,000 ‘black and white’ photographs of his fellow musicians shot behind the scenes.
This week, Riverwalk Jazz presents a legacy broadcast featuring the iconic bassist and photographer Milt Hinton, in a 1991 performance with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band live on stage at The Landing. Milt was 81.
Milt Hinton is widely regarded as The Dean of jazz bassists. He was the master of the ‘slap bass’ technique that originated in New Orleans with bassists such as the legendary Bill Johnson (1872-1972), who Milt knew during his early Chicago days. Jazz historian Richard Hadlock described Milt’s slapping as “…a living link with the New Orleans bass style.”
Photos from the book, Playing the Changes,
by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson
Hinton’s career spanned seven decades. Born in 1910 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Milt began playing in Chicago and got his first break in 1931 playing and recording for Victor with Eddie South, billed as the “dark angel of the violin.” In 1936 Milt joined Cab Calloway and stayed with him until 1951.
On our show this week, Milt speaks affectionately of Cab, saying, “Cab was most generous. He was born on Christmas Day, so December 23rd he would stop working regardless of where we were. He’d give us each a hundred bucks for a Christmas present and a train ticket home, round trip.”
Famous as the most sought-after recording “session man” of the New York studio scene in the 1950s and 60s, Milt still holds the record as the most-recorded musician in jazz history, having logged more than 6,000 sessions. He performed with Basie, Ellington and Armstrong, and appeared on network television and radio shows, on motion picture sound-tracks, as well as recordings with Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and many more.
A parallel career for Milt was jazz photography. Some of his outstanding photos of jazz greats—selected from over 35,000 negatives—have been compiled in two books, Bass Line and Over Time,by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson, published by Pomegranate Artbooks.
A third volume of Milt Hinton’s photographs, Playing the Changes by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger and HollyMaxson, published by Vanderbilt University Press, includes an extensive narrative by Milt and 140 never-before-
published photographs. The same creative team produced a loving portrait of Milt Hinton in a PBS documentary called, Keeping Time, hosted by Susan Sarandon.
In the last three decades of his life, Milt was a mainstay of the worldwide Classic Jazz party and festival scene. He frequently appeared with Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, as well as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
In this week’s broadcast, Milt remembers his early days in Chicago with Eddie South and Erskine Tate, his stint with Cab Calloway, and his thoughts about how his life in music turned out:
“Music involves more than just playing an instrument. It’s really about cohesiveness and sharing. All my life I’ve felt obliged to teach anyone who would listen. I’ve always believed you don’t truly know something yourself until you can take from your mind and put it in someone else’s. I also know the only way we continue to live on this earth is by giving our talents to the younger generation.”
Milt Hinton died December 19, 2000 in New York City. He was 90.
Photo credit for Home and Recent Radio Broadcasts: Milt Hinton
Photo courtesy Mike Meddings doctorjazz2.freeserve.co.uk
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Pick © 2012