Jazz: Through the Life and Lens of Milt Hinton — A Photo Exhibit

May 9th, 2014

Jazz: Through the Life and Lens of Milt
Hinton

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Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt Hinton, c. 1941

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 Since its inception in 1997, it has been the goal of Jerry Jazz Musician to publish content that connects jazz music and American civilization, and to present the culture of the music to readers in a way that will spark memories for the generation who lived during its “golden age,” and help nourish curiosity about it to members of generations who did not.

 

As a jazz musician for seven decades, and as a chronicler of its intellectual and spiritual development through his fascinating, award-winning photography, Milt Hinton acts as an essential connecting point for the music and its associated culture.  Hinton played bass alongside iconic figures like Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong, and, as a photographer, brought these men and a host of others into focus as musicians, artists, and vital contributors to
twentieth-century American life.  

 With the generous consent of David G. Berger and Holly Maxson, who along with Milt Hinton co-authored Playing the Changes:  Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, Jerry Jazz Musician presents a photo exhibit, “Jazz: Through the Life and Lens of Milt Hinton.”
 

The exhibit consists of two parts:

The Life of Milt Hinton

— A chronicle of Hinton’s career as a musician and photographer, featuring photographs of and by Hinton, as well as book excerpts and associated sound and video samples, with an introduction by Clint Eastwood, and;

The
Photography of Milt Hinton

— Featuring photographs taken by Hinton, as well as book excerpts

  The photographs and the stories within this exhibit are just a small sampling of Hinton’s career.  

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playingthechanges


All photos and book excerpts from
Playing
the Changes:  Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs
, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson, published by
Vanderbilt University
Press
. Copyright (c) 2008 by Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection.
All rights reserved.

________________________________________________________

Introduction

(Excerpted from the book’s Foreword)

 Milt Hinton is a unique figure in jazz. As a bass player, he spans seven decades of the music’s history. Starting out with Cab Calloway in 1936, he soon became one of jazz’s essential sidemen, performing on what are now classic recordings with the likes of Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, and Ben Webster. And with some help from Jackie Gleason, he became one of the first black musicians to integrate the recording studios in the early ’50’s, backing up legends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Barbara Streisand.

 What also makes Milt Hinton’s life so wonderful is his photographic work. He got a new camera in the late ’30s and began shooting his fellow musicians and the places he traveled. What he recorded provides valuable insights into why jazz is one of America’s great art forms.

 I was deeply touched when my son Kyle, a jazz bassist, was asked to perform at a concert celebrating Milt’s ninetieth birthday at the JVC Festival in 2000. Having Kyle play in a bass chorus with some of jazz’s finest musicians made me proud and reaffirmed my passion for the music.

 Milt Hinton’s body of work has inspired and guided me in my musical journey, and I think Playing the Changes:  Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs will provide a similar experience for all who have loved jazz as I have throughout my life.

– Clint Eastwood, April, 2007

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The Life of Milt Hinton

A short video of Milt Hinton demonstrating the slap bass technique

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Hilda Gertrude Robinson (“Titter,” Milt’s mother) and Milton John Hilton (“Milt”), Vicksburg, Mississippi, c. 1911

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“From my birth until I left Mississippi when I was nine, I lived in Vicksburg with my mother, two of her sisters — my aunts Pearl and Alberta — and Mama [Milt’s maternal grandmother].  So three of Mama’s children were living under one roof and two others — my uncles Bob and Matt — were still alive at the time I was born.  Uncle Matt lived somewhere else in town, but Uncle Bob had gone up to Chicago a couple of months after I was born.  My mother never did have any more children and my aunts never had kids.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1913

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“I also went to regular public school in Vicksburg.  I don’t think I learned very much there because a few years later, when we moved to Chicago, they put me back a couple of grades.  What I remember best is stopping on the way to school and buying a can of condensed milk for a nickel.  I’d take it into the classroom, put a hole in the can, and set it under my desk.  I kept a wooden clothespin in my drawer and I’d stick it in the can and let the milk absorb into the wood.  Then I’d suck it until the sweet taste was gone, dip it back in the can, and start over again.  I had it worked out so the little can lasted all day.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt, Vicksburg, Mississippi, c. 1919

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[The six o’clock train to Chicago]…”was my first time on a train.  We were in the black coach, of course, and it was crowded and unbelievably dirty.  It smelled like rotten food and it was noisy.  It was hard to fall asleep and the trip seemed like it went on for days.

“We got to Chicago sometime late the next day, and my mother and my aunt and uncles were right there to meet us.  It was October or November, and it was pretty cold in Chicago.  My mother had brought a coat to the station for me and put it on me the moment we arrived.  Then we all got into a taxicab and went to my new home.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt, Chicago, c. 1922

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“A couple of days after we arrived in Chicago, Mama took me over to the Doolittle Grammar School at 36th and Cottage Grove, a block or two from where we lived.  It was a beautiful red brick building with a large playground surrounding it — I’d never seen a school like that in Mississippi.  They gave me some kind of test so they could put me in the right grade.  I’d just finished fifth grade in Vicksburg, so I cried when I found out I’d have to go back and repeat three grades at Doolittle.  That’s how different the education was for blacks in the North and South in those days….

“…music came to mean more to me than anything else.  I started playing the violin at thirteen and from that point on, whenever something bad happened, I’d go off alone and play my music.  It became my religion.  It was my salvation and it sustained me.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Ed Burke and Milt, Chicago, 1923

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“Starting from the time I came to Chicago in 1919, I’d spend my Sunday afternoons seeing a live show and a silent movie at one of the theaters.  Dave Peyton had the orchestra at the Grand Theatre with musicians like Oscar Low on sax, a trumpet player named Raymond Whitsett, and Jimmy Bell on violin.  I liked Erskine Tate’s Orchestra at the Vendome much better.  I think he had that job for about ten years and at one time or another he must’ve brought in every good musician around Chicago.  I’d see Teddy Weatherford playing piano, the great clarinet player Barney Bigard, and a percussionist named Jimmy Bertrand.  I remember we’d sit there in amazement when he’d play the melody to a blues called “My Daddy Rocks Me” on tympani.  Evidently, in those days he was about the only black guy around who could play all the percussion instruments, and I’ve heard he’s the one who taught Lionel Hampton about xylophone…

“Then there was Eddie South, one of the stars and a marvelous violin soloist.  I loved him from the start.  He was my inspiration and idol.  Whenever I saw him, I knew what I wanted to be when I got older.  I really worshipped him.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Wendell Phillips High School Symphony Orchestra:  Milt (front row, sixth from left), Chicago, 1929

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“Other than my experiences with music and musicians, I don’t remember many things about Wendell Phillips [High School].

“…After a couple of years, some of the best musicians graduated and I had more seniority.  Bill Lyle replaced Quinn Wilson as first chair in our symphony orchestra and when he graduated, it was finally my turn.  Pretty soon I became president of the symphony.  I was also made director of the booster orchestra, which played for dances and proms and during the intermissions at assemblies when they showed silent movies.  I was getting to be one of the school’s musical stars.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Wendell Phillips High School ROTC Marching Band:  Milt with tuba (back row, far left), Chicago, 1929

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“I also made the All City Orchestra, which was made up of the best musicians from the twenty-three Chicago high schools — both black and white.  Most kids had to wait until they were seniors to get in, but I made it for three years straight and got bronze, silver, and gold medals.  Actually, the first two years I played violin, but by the third year I’d made the switch over to bass.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt, Chicago, c. 1929

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“I got my first steady job in the spring of 1930, about three or four months after I graduated from high school in January and had just started Crane [Junior College].  The leader was Tiny Parham, a piano player who must’ve weighed four hundred pounds.  We had Delbert Bright, sort of an Earl Bostic-type saxophone player, and Freddie Williams, who sang and played guitar and banjo.  Freddie had a short leg, so he wore a built-up shoe.  Then there was Jimmy McHendrick on drums, and I played tuba.”

– Milt Hinton

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt, Chicago, c. 1930

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“In the spring of 1931, I got offered a steady job with Jabbo [Smith] at the Showboat on Clark Street, downtown.  It was the last place Louis Armstrong worked before he left for New York.

“…Because of Louis, the club had developed a reputation as a trumpet room, so when he left, they decided they had to find a suitable replacement and the closest they could get was Jabbo Smith.”

– Milt Hinton

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Let’s Get Together , by Jabbo Smith and His Rhythm Aces

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Mr. and Mrs. Eddie South, Chicago, c. 1933

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“Playing with him [Eddie South] was one of the greatest challenges of my life.  It was also about the best learning experiences I ever had.  As a teenager, I’d idolized him, and having the opportunity to know him, hear him, and study him closely was a dream come true…

“Once I spent an afternoon visiting Eddie at his place.  Just before I left, he gave me a gift.  He’d just gotten a new violin case and wanted me to have his old one.  It wasn’t much to look at.  It was made of alligator skin, but he’d used it so long it was practically worn out.  None of that mattered, because when I opened it, I found a note written in longhand.

November 24, 1933

To Milton–

Retain this case as a remembrance.  Countless are the miles it’s traveled with me.  I sincerely wish that your success equals the height of the miles I’ve carried it.  This case has been with me for thousands of miles and I hope your career will carry you as far.

— Eddie South

It was the most meaningful thing he could have given me, and I’ve always felt it was his way of telling me about the special place I had in his life.”

– Milt Hinton

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Old Man Harlem by Eddie South

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

The Cab Calloway Orchestra, c. 1936

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“Here’s how I got the [Cab Calloway Orchestra] job.  In 1935, Cab went to California to make a movie called The Singing Kid with Al Jolson.  When he left, Al Morgan was his bass player, but by the time they finished shooting, Al had quit and remained in California.  From what I heard, he was so photogenic that some of the movie people told him they’d use him in other pictures if he stayed on the Coast.  So he managed to join Les Hite’s band, which had steady work at the Cotton Club out there, and that made him available.

“Al’s leaving took Cab by surprise.  The movie was finished, and Cab was about to start working his way back east.  Suddenly he had no bass player.

“At that point, [trombonist] Keg [Johnson] recommended me to Cab.  Much later, I heard how Cab reacted to the suggestion.  he told Keg, ‘Look, if I can get to New York, I’ll get me a good bass player.  But I got a lot of work to do before we get there.  So when we hit Chicago, I’ll drop by and hear this kid.”

– Milt Hinton

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Pickin’ the Cabbage by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

The Calloway rhythm section (clockwise from top right):  Leroy Maxey, Milt, Benny Payne, and Morris White, c. 1937

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Pluckin’ the Bass by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photograph taken with Milt Hinton’s camera and copyrighted by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Milt, Cab Calloway bandstand, Dallas, c. 1937

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“When I was a kid they called me “Sporty.”  I don’t know why — I wasn’t that sharp a guy, but it stuck with me even after I joined Cab.  When I’d been with the band for a couple of years, I got a new nickname which came from a joke I used to tell all the time.  I’d ask, “What’s the lowest thing on earth?” and wait to get a few answers.  Then I’d s ay, ‘Fump!’

“‘Fump, what’s that?’ everybody’d ask.

“And I’d answer, ‘Whale shit at the bottom of the ocean!’

“The joke sounds pretty corny today, but the name ‘Fump’ stuck with me for at least a dozen years.”

– Milt Hinton

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Blues in the Night a video of Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Cozy Cole, Cab Calloway, Milt, and Stranth Washington, the E-Z Club, Washington, D.C., 1941

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 “We had only one star in our band — Cab.  And he wasn’t very interested in music.  All he really ever wanted from us was solid accompaniment.  But he paid better than Duke [Ellington] and he also seemed more concerned about developing discipline and making sure we had a positive image of ourselves.”

– Milt Hinton

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Geechy Joe/Stormy Weather by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Paul Webster and Milt, Harlem, New York City, c. 1941

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“I developed a real fondness for Harlem.  I still remember how, when the weather was warm, some of us would walk from the Cotton Club at 48th and Broadway up to the places where we were staying in Harlem.  We’d been playing in a smoke-filled room all night, so when four AM rolled around, we looked forward to getting some fresh air.

“There were usually five or six of us.  We’d head up toward Central Park West and then follow it north all the way to Harlem.  There was a great bakery on 116th, and we’d stop there and pick up a couple of dozen donuts or some fresh rolls.  Then we’d get a couple quarts of milk, spread everything out on a park bench, and pass the food around.  When we were finished, we’d go our separate ways.”

– Milt Hinton

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Bye Bye Blues by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt Hinton, c. 1941

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Minnie the Moocher a film of Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Danny Barker and Dizzy Gillespie, train, c. 1940

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“There was a system to traveling on the road.  We’d put on bathrobes and hang around our berths waiting for a turn in the bathroom.  After each guy washed and shaved, he’d go to his big H & M trunk in the baggage car, take out a clean suit, go back to the Pullman, and get dressed.  We would usually spend the rest of the afternoon in the dining car and then back in the Pullman hanging out, reading, talking, or playing cards.”

– Milt Hinton

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Tappin’ Off by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photo from the Hinton Family Collection

Milt and Cozy Cole, Panther Room, Hotel Sherman, Chicago, 1941

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“In his own way, Cab was concerned about race.  He didn’t want to present black people in a stereotyped, Uncle Tom image, especially in the Deep South.  So when we went down there he’d make sure to emphasize a high class presentation.  He’d take performers like Honi Coles, Avis Andrews, and the Mills Brothers with him, and he’d make sure everyone dressed and acted properly, both on and off the stage.  In his own way, he emphasized the dignity of black people.”

– Milt Hinton

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Ebony Silhouette by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra

Photograph taken with Milt Hinton’s camera and copyrighted by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Jackie Gleason and Milt, New York City, 1952

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“It was Jackie Gleason who really helped me get started in another part of the music business — studio work.

“I first met Jackie sometime during my last years with Cab.  Back in those days, he was a struggling comedian who got his best laughs — sometimes his only laughs — from the band.  He loved jazz and always like to hang out with musicians, who are known for their generosity, especially when it comes to buying drinks.

“It was during my slow period that I ran into Jackie and his manager, Bullets Durgom, on a street corner downtown.  I knew Bullets from the old days when he was a song plugger.  Whenever we played New York, he’d bring Cab material and try to get it on the air.  I hadn’t seen Jackie for a while, and by this time he was a celebrity.  He asked me the usual kinds of questions: ‘Whatta ya doing? What’s going on?’

“But instead of giving the standard show-business answer, I told the truth and said, ‘Nothing.’

“Hearing that, Jackie turned to Bullets and said, ‘We’re doin’ a record date tomorrow.  Put Milt on it.’

“Bullets didn’t know what to say.  He tried to explain about contractors and hiring, but Jackie didn’t want to know.

“‘I don’t give a damn about the contractor.  Call whoever’s in charge and tell him I want Milt there tomorrow,’ Jackie said.

“‘But Jackie, we already have a bass player,’ Bullets argued.

“And I’ll never forget Jackie’s answer, ‘Well, now we have two.'”

– Milt Hinton

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Alone Together by Jackie Gleason

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Count Basie, television studio (Sound of Jazz rehearsal), New York City, 1957

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“I continued working wherever and whenever I could and then I got a job offer I never expected — a chance to work with [Count] Basie…

“Basie wouldn’t let me get bored.  Onstage we’d always be a couple of feet apart and he’d kid with me all night.  If we were playing up-tempo and I was walking fast and starting to sweat, he’d tinkle a couple of notes, then lean over to me and say, ‘Go ahead, hog, you’re gonna take it anyway.’  I always broke up.”

– Milt Hinton

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I Left My Baby a 1957 filmed performance of the Count Basie Orchestra (from Sound of Jazz)

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Louis and Lucille Armstrong, Honolulu, 1954

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“Deciding whether or not to go with Louis was very difficult.  My month-long commitment to Basie was over, but I was getting good freelance jobs.  And even though I couldn’t be sure how much I’d be making from week to week, the pay was getting better.  When I left Cab, I said I’d never go back on the road any length of time, but the thought of playing with a legend like Louis made the idea of traveling more acceptable.”

– Milt Hinton

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Muskrat Ramble by Louis Armstrong (c. 1955)

Photograph taken with Milt Hinton’s camera and copyrighted by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Milt and Duke Ellington, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1972

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“Duke [Ellington] called me one night and asked if I’d come down to the Rainbow Grill that night and sub for Joe Benjamin.  I jumped at the opportunity…

“…we began to take our places on the bandstand.  I still hadn’t seen Duke and I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to play.  I was really on edge.

“As soon as I got on the stand, I spotted Duke sitting with some guests at one of the front tables.  The band wasn’t ready, so I put my bass down and walked over to him.  He got up from the table, greeted me with his usual ‘Hello, baby,’ and kissed me on both cheeks, the way he always did.  I must’ve seemed nervous when I asked about the first tune, but he was very calm.  ‘You just cantor in F ’til I bring the band in.’

“I knew what he wanted immediately.  Cantoring is a vamp which gets its name from Eddie Cantor’s old radio show.  His audience used to chant the same four notes over and over, saying, ‘We want Cantor.’  I felt more relaxed.

“I went back to the stand, everyone took their places, and a few minutes later Duke joined us.  Then he counted off, pointed to me, and I began.  About thirty seconds later the whole band hit and then I was totally confused.  I didn’t know the changes.  There was no guitar, and since Duke wasn’t seated at the piano, I couldn’t watch his left hand to get my notes.  Trying to find changes by listening to the brass and reeds is an uphill battle.

“Duke could tell I was struggling.  He looked in my direction until he was sure he’d caught my eye.  Then he pointed one finger to his ear, as if to say, ‘Relax and listen, baby, you’ll hear it.’  I did.  I followed the best way I knew, and I survived.

“Duke praised me all during the evening.  He introduced me to the audience and told them how I’d come in at the last minute to help him out.  But the greatest compliment came in a letter I got about a week later.  It was from a Canadian priest.  He’d been one of Duke’s guests the night I played.  He said that at one point during the evening, Duke talked to him about me and told him, ‘He looks like a king up there on the stand, doing all those miraculous things.  He plays like he’s been here all the time.'”

– Milt Hinton

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Jo Jones, recording studio, New York City, c. 1972

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“I learned a tremendous amount about pitch and sound from [drummer] Jo [Jones].  He could drive a band harder, louder, and better than anyone, but he also knew about using the drums to speak softly.  His brushwork was something to behold.  He showed us that you don’t have to be loud to be heard.  If you’re good enough, people make it their business to listen.”

– Milt Hinton

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Jo Jones, in a 1957 filmed performance with the Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars

Photo Copyright by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey, on tour in the Middle East, United Arab Emirates, 1979

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“Some of my favorite foreign trips were with Pearl Bailey in the ’70s and ’80s…

“…some of my fondest memories come from the first trip we made to the Middle East in the early ’70s.  Her husband Louie Bellson, was the drummer, and Don Abney was her pianist.  This was a good will tour sponsored by the State Department.  As I recall, we were about a week ahead of President Nixon, who was scheduled to make official visits to the same countries.  We never played for the public, but we met a lot of foreign dignitaries and officials from our State Department.”

– Milt Hinton

Photograph taken with Milt Hinton’s camera and copyrighted by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Milt and Jane Jarvis, Zinno Restaurant, New York City, 1986

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“In addition to traveling, beginning in the early ’70s, I found myself working at a few jazz clubs around the city…

“From the mid ’70s until the mid ’90s, once or twice a year I’d also take a gig with an all-star group and play at one of the major jazz clubs in the city.  But, aside from Michael’s Pub, the other places I worked were usually small and less known.”

– Milt Hinton

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Wade in the Water , by Milt Hinton

Photograph taken with Milt Hinton’s camera and copyrighted by the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Milt Hinton, television studio, New York City, c. 1968

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“Over the years, I played concerts with hundreds of performers from just about every era of jazz.  Truthfully, it really didn’t matter who I was with or what the gig required, just as long as I could play the music I truly love.”

– Milt Hinton

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Milt Hinton plays Indiana in a filmed performance with the Tonight Show Orchestra

Page two of “Jazz:  Through the Life and Lens of Milt Hinton”:

The Photography of Milt Hinton

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playingthechanges

All photos and book excerpts from Playing the Changes:  Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson, published by Vanderbilt University Press. Copyright (c) 2008 by Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection. All rights reserved.

 

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In This Issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

Features

In this edition of Reminiscing in Tempo,, Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Piazza, Gary Giddins, Randy Brecker, Michael Cuscuna, Terry Teachout and many others answer the question, “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite recordings of the 1940’s?”

Interviews

Interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, author of the new book "Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940 - 1946"

Poetry

Eight poets — John Stupp, Aurora Lewis, Michael L. Newell, Robert Nisbet, Alan Yount, Roger Singer, dan smith and Joan Donovan — write about the era of World War II

The Joys of Jazz

Award winning radio producer and host Bob Hecht shares his love of jazz through his podcasts on his site “The Joys of Jazz.” In this edition, he tells two stories; the history of the virtual anthem of World War II, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and the friendship and musical rapport of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

Short Fiction

Hannah Draper of Ottawa, Ontario is the winner of the 49th Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award. Her story is titled "Will You Play For Me?"

Coming Soon

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Contributing writers

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