Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Hinton, Milt (Milton John)

Bassist Milt Jackson advanced the role of the bassist in a jazz ensemble by performing with a keen rhythmic intellect and an acute sense of harmony. These qualities secured a strong reputation for Milt during his long career and set a new benchmark for modern bassists.

 Milt Hinton

Hinton's prolific body of recorded work reveals a consistently sophisticated melodic intelligence which augmented any ensemble with which he performed. In his work with bandleader Cab Calloway, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, pianist John Lewis and many others, Hinton offered an archetype of professionalism and musical achievement for the jazz bassist.

Milton John Hinton was born on June 23, 1910 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. At three months old, Milt’s parents separated and he was raised by his mother. Hinton grew up in a musical family where his mother played the organ and piano for their church as well as acting as the director of the church choir.

In 1919, Minton and his mother moved to Chicago where he began to study music. Milt began to receive violin lessons and aspired to be an accompanist for silent movies. For the next four years, he studied classical music. Music proved to be therapeutic for the young man and he set out to make music his career.

Upon the release of the movie The Jazz Singer in 1927, Hinton realized that being an accompanist for silent films was a dying prospect. While attending Wendell Phillips High School, he played the tuba in their school band and in the Chicago Defender brass band. Milt soon switched from the violin to cello before settling on the bass in his senior year of high school.

Beginning in the late 1920s, Hinton began to make a name for himself with trumpeter Guy Kelly, who gave him his first professional job, pianist Art Tatum, and cornetist Freddie Keppard. An advocate for education, Hinton attended Crane Junior College while performing with reed player Boyd Atkins and violinist Erskine Tate.

After attending Crane, Minton enrolled at Northwestern University, but left soon after to devote all of his time to music. In 1930, Milt made his recording debut with pianist Tiny Parham. Throughout the early 1930s, Milt performed with violinist Eddie South, pianist Fate Marable and trumpeter Jabbo Smith.

By 1935, Hinton was freelancing steadily throughout Chicago when he was offered a job in drummer Zutty Singleton group at the Three Deuces club in New York City. Milt received his big break in late 1935 when he was offered a position in bandleader Cab Calloway’s group after he lost his bassist to a Hollywood studio orchestra.

Milt was only meant as a temporary replacement, with Calloway insisting that Hinton was to be replaced by a more efficient bassist when the group made its way to New York. Hinton soon impressed Calloway and he performed with the bandleader until 1951.

During his time with Calloway, Hinton obtained the name “Fump,” which he was given due to the sound of his bass. Uncommon at the time, Milt was often given the spotlight at performances where he would perform solos to the delight of the audience. Throughout his time with Calloway, Hinton continued to freelance. In 1936, Milt contributed to sessions led by pianist Teddy Wilson for singer Billie Holiday. The following year, he recorded with tenor saxophonist Chu Berry and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.

In 1939, Hinton recorded the album Pluckin’ The Bass with Calloway. Featured in the band at this time was trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who along with Hinton set forth to help Calloway modernize his sound. In 1944, Milt recorded with trumpeter Emmett Berry, alto saxophonist Pete Brown and former Calloway arranger Foots Thomas.

Upon the dissolution of the Calloway orchestra, Hinton began to perform throughout New York where he was an in demand musician. Soon after, Milt began to perform with pianist Joe Bushkin at the Embers club in New York. Included in the band at this time was trumpeter Buck Clayton and drummer Jo Jones.

Afterward, Hinton briefly performed with pianist Count Basie in the summer of 1953 and with trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s All Stars from late 1953 until early 1954. The same year, Milt began to lead his own group at the Basin Street West club. In July 1954, he performed with Billie Holiday at the first ever Newport Jazz Festival.

The same year, comedian and friend Jackie Gleason helped Milt secure a position as a staff musician at CBS. During a time of segregation, Hinton found himself one of the only African-American musicians that were finding session work. The same year, he recorded with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins on his album Jazz Tones.

The following year, Hinton recorded Milt Hinton, his first release as a leader. During the late 1950s, Milt recorded and performed with several musicians including pianist George Russell, singer Jimmy Rushing, trumpeter Red Allen, and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.

In 1957, Hinton appeared on the album The Birth of the Third Stream. The album showcased the efforts of progressive jazz and modern classical musicians to create a “third stream” of composition which combined western classical music and jazz. The album features compositions by bassist Charles Mingus, trombonist J.J. Johnson and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre. A highlight of the session is the song “Three Little Feelings.”

Written by pianist John Lewis, Hinton demonstrates his use of space in the brass heavy arrangement. After the introduction from the brass section, Hinton and drummer Osie Johnson enter the arrangement with Hinton playing a two-feel against the brass. The two-feel allows for the maximum harmonic involvement without getting in the way of the dense arrangement. For trumpeter Miles Davis’s solo, Milt changes to an even quarter note beat in order to help the general harmonic flow of the arrangement.

For the next fifteen years, Hinton made many appearances on not just jazz recordings, but pop music and film soundtracks. Alongside Osie Johnson, pianist Hank Jones, and guitarist Barry Galbraith, Hinton was a member of a studio group that performed on several noted popular songs, including singer Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit “Mack the Knife.” He also accompanied pianist Erroll Garner, and singers Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson and Johnny Mathis.

Around this time, Hinton acquired the nickname “The Judge.” There are many theories as to how he acquired the nickname; the most widely accepted is that he expected all of the musicians he worked with to be punctual to recording and performance dates.

In 1961, Milt recorded with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond on his album Desmond Blue. In 1963, Hinton recorded with tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves and alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt on the album Salt and Pepper.

Beginning in 1968, Milt was a member of the New York Bass Violin Choir, a collective ensemble of bassists that were under the leadership of bassist Bill Lee. Included in the group were Ron Carter, Sam Jones and Michael Fleming. In 1980, the group released their self-titled album on the Strata-East label.

In the late 1960s, Hinton began to participate in producer Dick Gibson’s “Colorado Jazz Parties” and the Odessa Jazz Festival. On August 21, 1967, Milt appeared on alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges’ album Don’t Sleep on the Subway. On the album’s title track, Milt showcases his sensibilities in the pop arrangement by sticking to the root movement of the chords, which further allows the power of the arrangement to be felt. By staying rhythmically consistent with the brass and woodwind sections, he advances the harmonic and melodic value of the arrangement.

In 1974, Hinton recorded with violinist Joe Venuti and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims on the album Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims. The album also featured pianist John Bunch, trombonist Spiegel Wilcox and drummer Bobby Rosengarden. During the 1970s, Hinton began to perform overseas on a more frequent basis. Through this time, Milt accompanied singer Bing Crosby on his final tour of Europe and became the house bassist at Michael’s Pub in New York. In 1979, he recorded with pianists Ralph Sutton and Jay McShann on their album Ralph Sutton and Jay McShann.

Throughout his later career, Hinton performed with talk show host Dick Cavett’s studio band, taught music at Hunter College and Baruch College, and performed with his own group. Milt further endeavored into jazz education with the establishment of the Milton J. Hinton Scholarship fund, which was founded to help aspiring bassists. Other educational efforts included him serving as the bass chairman for the National Association of Jazz Educators and as a board member for the National Endowment for the Arts and the International Society of Bassists.

Throughout the early 1980s, Hinton performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. In 1988, Milt performed on saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s album Trio Jeepy alongside drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. On the Billy Strayhorn composition “UMMG,” Hinton takes full advantage of the trio setting and grounds himself in order to allow Watts more rhythmic freedom. What is most appealing about Hinton’s performance is how fixed he is with Branford’s solos. Milt is at the same harmonic pace with Branford, which results in a tight harmonic correspondence between the two men.

The following year, Milt performed with bandleader Benny Carter at the Chicago Jazz Festival. For his eightieth birthday in 1990, he made several appearances at festivals in North American and Europe.

At this time, Hilton began to exhibit photographs he had been taking over the years, eventually releasing the books Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton in May 1991 on Temple University Press and Overtime: The Jazz Photographs of Milt Hinton in July 1996 by Pomegranate Press. His photographs have since been exhibited throughout the world and appeared in director Jean Bach’s 1994 documentary filmA Great Day in Harlem.

During the early 1990s, Hinton toured with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, and guitarist Herb Ellis in a sextet that featured the repertoire from Benny Goodman. In 1991, Milt played on the soundtrack of director Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever.

Hinton’s dedication to education allowed him to receive several honorary doctorates including DePaul University, Berklee College of Music and William Patterson College. In 1993, he received an American Jazz Master Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995, Hinton released Laughing at Life, his last album as a leader.

In 1996, he received the New York State Governor’s Award. The same year, Milt was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1999, Hinton’s photographs were displayed at Flushing Town Hall, which corresponded with a celebration of his work.

On December 19, 2000, Hinton passed away at the age of ninety after a long illness at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, New York. Milt was survived by his wife Mona, daughter Charlotte Morgan and a granddaughter.

Select Discography

As a leader

Milt Hinton (1955)

Basses Loaded (1955)

Milt Hinton Quartet (1955)

The Rhythm Section (1956)

Here Swings the Judge (1964)

The Trio (1977)

Back to Bass-ics (1984)

The Judge’s Decision (1984)

Old Man Time (1989)

Laughing at Life (1994)

With Paul Desmond

Desmond Blue (1961)

Bossa Antigua (1964)

With Paul Gonsalves/Sonny Stitt

Salt and Pepper (1963)

With Coleman Hawkins

Jazz Tones (1954)

With Johnny Hodges

Don’t Sleep on the Subway (1967)

With John Lewis/Gunther Schuller

The Birth of the Third Stream (1957)

With Branford Marsalis

Trio Jeepy (1988)

With Ralph Sutton/Jay McShann

Ralph Sutton and Jay McShann (1979)

With Joe Venuti/Zoot Sims

Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims (1974)

Contributor: Eric Wendell