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Tribute To Bass Legend Milt Hinton This Week On Riverwalk Jazz

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This week, Riverwalk Jazz presents a legacy broadcast featuring the iconic bassist Milt Hinton in a 1991 performance with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, live at The Landing in San Antoniio. Milt was 81.

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?” Milt Hinton had plenty to say in his thousands of recordings, with his lively storytelling, and in some 60,000 black and white photographs of his fellow musicians shot behind the scenes.

During his lifetime, Milt Hinton was thought of as the “Dean" of jazz bassists. He was the master of the “slap" bass technique that originated with New Orleans bassists such as Bill Johnson (1872-1972), whom Milt knew during his early Chicago days. 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. He got his first break in 1931 playing and recording with Eddie South, billed as the “dark angel of the violin.” In 1936 Milt joined Cab Calloway and stayed with him until 1951.

On our show this week, Milt speaks affectionately of Cab, 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 recording “session man” of the New York studio scene in the 1950s and '60s, Milt still holds the record as the most-recorded musician in history, having logged more than 6,000 sessions. He performed with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and appeared on network television and radio shows, on motion picture sound tracks, as well as recordings with Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and many more.

An avocation for Milt was jazz photography. Some of his candid shots of jazz greats—selected from over 35,000 negatives—have been compiled in two books, Bass Line and Over Time, by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson, published by Pomegranate Artbooks.

A third volume of Milt Hinton’s photographs, Playing the Changes by the same authors, published by Vanderbilt University Press, includes an extensive narrative by Milt along with 140 of his unpublished photographs. The same creative team produced a loving portrait of Milt in a PBS-TV documentary, Keeping Time, hosted by Susan Sarandon.

In the last three decades of his life, Milt was a mainstay of the worldwide Classic Jazz party and festival scene. He frequently appeared with Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli and The Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band.

In this week’s broadcast, Milt remembers his early days in Chicago with Eddie South and Erskine Tate, his stint with Cab Calloway, and his thoughts about how his life in music turned out:

“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 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 at the age of 90.

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