Milt Hinton Turns 90


Milt HintonMilt Hinton, dean of bassists, turned 90 on June 23, 2000. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1910, Mr. Hinton performed with Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and many others, including a sixteen-year stint with Cab Calloway. An important pioneer in breaking the color line for performers in concert halls, television and recording studios, Mr. Hinton can be heard on hundreds of recordings. He is also an accomplished photographer who chronicled much of Jazz history in his 1989 memoir, "Bass Line." He and his wife Mona contributed home-movie footage to the film "A Great Day in Harlem."

Mr. Hinton has been the deserving subject of numerous tributes. Among the festivities honoring the Judge on this special milestone was a June 13 concert, part of the JVC Jazz Festival New York. The 700-seat Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse was sold out, but the feeling was much like an intimate family reunion, so strong was the outpouring of love and respect. Mr. Hinton no longer performs, but personally selected many of the musicians and pieces presented. For the concert, he stayed in the audience with his wife Mona.

Musical director John Clayton, himself a fine bassist, read congratulatory messages from Cecilia and Ray Brown, and Hilma and Benny Carter. Throughout the evening, Mr. Clayton and others shared anecdotes from Hinton's 70-year career.

The musical program clicked along wonderfully, with little downtime as over 40 musicians were presented in different aggregations from solo to extra-big band. There were too many fine performances to list them all, but some highlights included the fine swing clarinet of Kenny Davern, Ron Carter's neoclassical presentation on solo bass, the Dizzy-like trumpet of Jon Faddis, with nice bebop fills by James Williams (JN cover March 2000) on "Groovin' High," and the subtle finesse of Kenny Washington and Basie alumnus Dennis MacKrell on drums. Benny Green played in a Tatumesque mode, and Dick Hyman stuck to his own distinctive style.

Howard Alden and Russell Malone traded snaps and rolls in perfect time, and then Faddis, Randy Sandke, Warren Vaché and Byron Stripling treated the audience to an extended trumpet joust. It was fun to see four "lead egos" muscling each other around on stage. Byron Stripling did a wonderful job of "Hi De Ho" on the Cab Calloway vehicle "Minnie the Moocher." Jazz impresario and festival producer George Wein reminded everyone that he's also a fine pianist, with a nice stride version of "Rosetta."

As the evening progressed, the music became noticeably more bass-centric. John Clayton carried his bass to the edge of the stage just in front of Mr. Hinton to play a gorgeous arco version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," with tasty pizzicato accompaniment by Christian McBride. Bassist Jay Leonhart reprised his performance from the Judge's 1990 80th-birthday concert with a light humor song recalling how Mr. Hinton had helped start Leonhart's career. Among the best lines: "Before the birth of Branford and Wynton, I was friends with Milton Hinton."

The pre-finale had all hands on deck for "Jumpin' at the Woodside," featuring a thoroughly modern solo by Jimmy Heath over the classic Basie changes. The finale was performed by a 19-bass choir of veterans (including Richard Davis, Bill Crow, Jack Lesberg, Phil Flanigan) and students. "Our Father, Our Judge" and "Many Happy Returns" (on the changes to Happy Birthday!), were both composed by John Clayton for the occasion. As a post-finale, the entire crowd serenaded Milt with his own composition "Old Man Time." Mona Hinton asked the audience not to depart "without saying hello to us." Party favors from Milt and Mona: M&M's!

Pianos: Joe Bushkin, Benny Green, Dick Hyman, Renee Rosnes, James Williams, George Wein
Guitars: Howard Alden, Russell Malone
Reeds: Kenny Davern, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess
Drums: Joe Ascione, Dennis MacKrel, Bob Rosengarden, Kenny Washington, Jackie Williams
Trombone: Art Baron
Trumpets: Jon Faddis, Rande Sandke, Byron Stripling, Warren Vaché
Basses: Ron Carter, John Clayton, Richard Davis, Jay Leonhart, Christian McBride, Brian Torff, Bill Crow, others

by Tom Elliott

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