Born Milton John Hinton on June 23, 1910, in Vicksburg, MS; died on December 19, 2000, in Queens, NY; wife, Mona; children: Charlotte Morgan. Education: Attended Crane Junior College, 1929-32; Northwestern University, 1933.

According to the All Music Guide, jazz bassist Milt Hinton quite possibly appeared on more recordings than any other musician in history. Known as "The Judge" to friends, fans, and critics alike and celebrated for his rich tone and sense of rhythmic timing, Hinton remained a vital force in the jazz style for more than 70 years, appearing on over 1,000 records, both under his own name and with others. During his prolific career, Hinton, who died on December 19, 2000, played with nearly all the great jazz leaders as well as various pop stars including Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Thelonius Monk, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, and Barbra Streisand.

In addition to playing jazz and educating young musicians, Hinton spent his life doubling as a professional photographer who documented the jazz life. He captured hundreds of images of performers on the road and in the studio, during both good and bad times. Many of his photographs, taken from an archive of more than 60,000 negatives, were exhibited throughout the world. Hinton also published two well-received books of such images: Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton and Overtime: The Jazz Photographs of Milt Hinton. "Milt Hinton is a musical icon," saxophonist Jimmy Heath told Down Beat's Alan Nahigian at a 1999 celebration and exhibition honoring Hinton's work at Flushing Town Hall, New York. "He has given us the history of jazz to contemplate and observe by documenting everything onto film, plus he has shown us the beauty of this music through his performances."

Desiring to share his passion for music with a younger generation, Hinton taught jazz courses at Hunter College and Baruch College in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1980, he established the Milton J. Hinton Scholarship Fund for aspiring bassists. His other education-based endeavors included serving as the bass chairman for the National Association of Jazz Educators, as a panel member for the National Endowment for the Arts, and as a board member of the International Society of Bassists. Several colleges awarded Hinton with honorary doctorate degrees for his work in music education including William Patterson College, Skidmore College, Hamilton College, DePaul University, Trinity College, the Berklee College of Music, Fairfield University, and the Baruch College of the City University of New York. Some of his numerous other honors include a Eubie Award from the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a Living Treasure Award from the Smithsonian Institution, an American Jazz Master Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993, and a New York State Governor's Award in 1996.

Milton John Hinton was born on June 23, 1910, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and was just three months old when his father, a missionary from Monrovia, and mother separated. Throughout his childhood, Hinton was well aware of racism. His maternal grandmother had been a slave on a plantation owned by the brother of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War era, and in 1918, at the age of eight, Hinton witnessed a lynching first-hand. More than 60 years after the terrifying event, Hinton recalled, as quoted by Bart Barnes in the Washington Post, "seeing a crowd of people, all around, men shooting, a big barrel of gasoline on the ground and a man is on fire, like a piece of bacon with a wire rope around his neck. In Vicksburg, when you lynched a [black person], you cut the tree down and painted the stump red. I walked to school past that stump every day, but I couldn't understand what was happening."

At age 11, Hinton and his mother moved to Chicago, where he began his musical education on the violin, taking private lessons in classical music. He hoped to one day play for silent films in the movie houses. In music, Hinton discovered a place where racial and class differences were nonexistent, where people could come together. "Music is an auditory art," he told Down Beat's Michael Bourne in 1993. "We go by sound. Not who your daddy was. Not your ethnicity. B-flat is the same in Japan as it is here. We can't speak the same language but we can play together. I praise God every day of my life that God let me be involved in music. This is where I get more freedom, more respect, more dignity from the world. This is what music means to me."

In 1927, following the release of Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with sound, Hinton realized that the days of a live violinist accompanying films were probably over. Thus, while attending Wendell Phillips High School and Crane Junior College, he switched from violin to the bass saxophone, followed by the tuba, cello, and eventually bass. From the late 1920s until the mid 1930s, Hinton worked with several legendary figures such as Art Tatum, Freddie Keppard, Jabbo Smith, Tiny Parham (with whom he made his recording debut in 1930), Eddie South (ironically, another violinist known for his mix of classical and jazz-oriented material), Zutty Singleton, and Fate Marable.

Hinton's big break arrived in 1936 when bandleader Cab Calloway, after losing his bassist to a Hollywood studio orchestra, offered him a position on a temporary basis. Originally, Calloway planned to replace Hinton with a "real" bassist when his tour left Chicago to perform in New York City. However, Hinton immediately proved himself a valuable addition and remained with Calloway's orchestra until 1951. Featured on the bandleader's 1939 set Pluckin' the Bass, Hinton also worked with Dizzy Gillespie to help modernize Calloway's style. While performing with Calloway, Hinton also made dozens of recordings with the likes of Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, and Billie Holiday.

After Calloway dissolved his band in 1951, Hinton, now based in New York, performed in clubs with Joe Bushkin, then briefly played with Count Basie and Louis Armstrong's All-Stars. In 1954, with the help of comedian Jackie Gleason, an old friend Hinton met on the club circuit years earlier, the bassist landed a job as a staff musician at CBS. At the time, the industry was still heavily segregated, making Hinton one of the first African American musicians hired for session work. Over the next 15 years, Hinton appeared on countless recordings, playing jazz as well as many other types of music, like Gleason's mood music and polka bands, film soundtracks and commercials, and jam sessions led by Buck Clayton. Other artists Hinton accompanied included Mahalia Jackson, Erroll Garner, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Shore, Johnny Mathis, Eddie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds, among others. The same period also saw the release of Hinton's first session as a leader in 1955.

In his later years, Hinton worked with Dick Cavett's studio band, taught music, and continued to play concerts and pursue photography, a hobby he took up in the mid 1930s when a friend gave him an old camera. Hinton died at the age of 90 after an extended illness at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, New York. He was survived by his wife, Mona, a daughter, Charlotte Morgan, and a granddaughter.

Hinton died on December 19, 2000, in Queens, New York, after an extended illness. He was 90.

by Laura Hightower

Milt Hinton's Career

Played with legendary jazz artists including Art Tatum, Erskine Tate, Zutty Singleton, Jabbo Smith, and Eddie South, 1920s-early 1930s; played with Cab Calloway's band, 1936-51; worked as freelance studio musician, playing on more recordings than any other bassist, 1950s-70s; jazz lecturer at various universities including the Bernard M. Baruch and Hunter Colleges of the City University of New York, 1970s-80s; published two books of photography: Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton, 1988, and Overtime: The Jazz Photographs of Milt Hinton, 1991.

Milt Hinton's Awards

Eubie Award, New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1988; Living Treasure Award, Smithsonian Institution, 1989; American Jazz Master Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1993; New York State Governor's Award, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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