The Concert Series Inspiration:
Milt Hinton, the “Judge”
Hinton, fondly called “The Judge,” was regarded as the Dean of jazz bass players. He was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1910, and at the age of 11 moved to Chicago with his family. His musical education began with private violin instruction, but while in school he also learned to play bass horn, tuba, cello and eventually bass violin.
During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Hinton worked as a freelance musician in Chicago, performing with legendary jazzmen such as Erskine Tate, Art Tatum, Jabbo Smith, Eddie South and Zutty Singleton. In 1936, he joined Cab Calloway’s band where he remained for fifteen years.
During this time he had an opportunity to perform with renowned Calloway sidemen such as Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, Illinois Jacquet, Ike Quebec and Cozy Cole.
Throughout this period he was also featured on numerous recordings accompanying Ethel Waters, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Carter. Some of these sessions have become jazz classics. After leaving Calloway in the early fifties, Hinton worked as a studio freelancer in New York City and made thousands of concert and festival appearances around the world. He toured extensively with Louis Armstrong (the Far East), Bing Crosby (Great Britain), and Pearl Bailey (the Near East). Over the years he made hundreds of records and performed on radio and television with virtually every jazz and popular artist from Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Mingus and Coltrane to Streisand, Midler, and McCartney.
Hinton became an active jazz educator. He was a guest clinician at dozens of colleges and taught on-going jazz workshops at Hunter and Baruch Colleges (The City University of New York). He served as the Bass Chairman for the National Association of Jazz Educators, as a Panel Member for the National Endowment for the Arts, and on the Board of the International Society of Bassists.
Milt Hinton’s numerous honors include membership in the Duke Ellington Fellowship at Yale and the Newport Festival Hall of Fame. He received honorary doctorates from William Patterson and Skidmore Colleges and the “Eubie” award from the New York Chapter of the National Academy of recording Arts and Sciences.
In recent years, a different dimension of Milt’s artistic ability has been recognized, namely his talent as a photographer. He began photography as a hobby, taking pictures of his friends in the 1930s, an activity he continued for decades. Over the years his collection grew to more than 60,000 images. The work depicts an extensive range of jazz artists and popular performers in varied settings—“on the road,” in recording studios, at parties, at home—over a period of five decades.
For ten years, Milt and his lifelong friend David Berger, a sociologist at Temple University, and paper conservator Holly Maxson worked on the photographic collection. Their activities involved cataloging, filing, printing, and indexing. The goal has been to make these photographs more accessible to the public.
In June 1981, Hinton had his first one-person show in Philadelphia. The response was overwhelming. The critics recognized his work as unique because, taken as whole, it portrays and documents significant musical eras form the perspective of an “inside” participant. Subsequently, Milt had individual shows across the country and in Scotland and Switzerland. In December 1985, he had a major exhibit, “ON THE ROAD,” at the Parsons School of Design in New York City and in April 1990, he and Jacob Lawrence exhibited jointly at The Aetna Foundation in Hartford.
Hinton’s work has also appeared in numerous group shows, most notably, “A Century of Black Photographers: 1840-1960”, a traveling exhibit organized by the Rhode Island School of Design. Other exhibits were scheduled for the Detroit Historical Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Hinton’s photographs have appeared in publications including Popular Photography, Downbeat, the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and Life magazine. His photographs have also appeared in documentary films including “The Long Night of Lady Day” (Billie Holiday), “The Brute and the Beautiful” (Ben Webster) and “Listen Up” (Quincy Jones).
In 1988, Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton, by Milt Hinton and David G. Berger, was published by Temple University Press. It contains nearly 180 photographs along with an extensive account of Milt’s fascinating life in music. Aetna Casualty and Insurance Company’s 1990 African American History Calendar features numerous Hinton photographs and extensive autobiographical materials.
In 1990, Hinton’s 80th year, WRTI-FM in Philadelphia, produced a series consisting of twenty-eight short programs in which Milt chronicled his life. These programs were aired nation-wide by more than 150 public radio stations. The series received a Gabriel Award as best national short feature in 1990.
A few of his other honors: membership in the Duke Ellington Fellowship at Yale University and the Newport Festival Hall of Fame; honorary doctorates from six institutions (including Baruch College); the “Eubie” award from the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and the Living Treasure Award from the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1993, along with Jon Hendricks and Joe Williams, Hinton was awarded the highly prestigious American Jazz Master Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts at a presentation hosted by the International Association of Jazz Educators. In 1996 Hinton was a recipient of the New York State Council on the Arts Governor’s Arts Award. Baruch College’s Mishkin Art Gallery presented a second exhibition of Hinton’s photos in mid-February 1998. Several of his photographs hang permanently on the wall of Baruch’s Vertical Campus cafeteria seating area.
The Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives concert series was inaugurated in November 1992 with Hinton himself (plus a select group of all-star musicians, including Wynton Marsalis) as the central performer. In subsequent years he attended the annual concerts as a “guest of honor.” Hinton passed away in 2000.