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?" With his long life and broad experience, Milt Hinton had plenty to say in his thousands of recordings, in his lively storytelling, and in some 60,000 black and white photographs of fellow musicians he 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 recorded 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 players such as the legendary Bill Johnson (1872-1972), who Milt knew during his early years of performing in Chicago. Jazz historian Richard Hadlock described Milt's slapping as "...a living link with the New Orleans bass style."
Hinton's career spanned seven decades. Born in 1910 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Milt began playing in Chicago and got his first break in 1931 recording for Victor with Eddie South, billed as the "dark angel of the violin." In 1936 Milt joined the Cab Calloway Orchestra and stayed with Cab until 1951.
On this radio show Milt speaks affectionately of Calloway, 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 'session man' of the New York recording studio scene in the 1950s and 60s, Milt logged more than 6,000 sessions. He performed with Basie, Ellington and Armstrong, appeared on network television and radio shows, on motion picture sound tracks, and on recordings with Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and many more.
Jazz photography was a parallel career for Milt Hinton. His outstanding photos of jazz greats—selected from over 35,000 negatives—have been compiled into two books, Bass Line and Over Time by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger and Holly Maxson and published by Pomegranate Artbooks.
A third volume of his photographs, Playing the Changes, compiled by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger and Holly Maxson was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It includes an extensive narrative by Milt with 140 of his 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.
Over the last three decades of his life, Milt was a mainstay of the worldwide Classic Jazz party and festival scene. He frequently appeared with piano legend Dick Hyman and guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli as well as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
On this broadcast Milt remembers his early days in Chicago with Eddie South and Erskine Tate, recalls his stint with Cab Calloway, and offers reflections on his life in music:
"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 it 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 page image: Milt Hinton
Photo Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection ©, www.MiltHinton.com
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Pick © 2012