Milt Hinton's career spanned the gamut of jazz generations, working from the early swing days of the 1930s with Cab Calloway through the end of the millennium with the new guard of jazz, such as Branford Marsalis and Christian McBride. His ability to make a contribution in any setting allowed for his vast array of work. As a soloist, Hinton, nicknamed "The Judge," was adept at the early bass tradition of slapping the strings. In addition to his love of music, Hinton was a perceptive and widely exhibited photographer. Much of the history of jazz can be found in his photographs, which were published in several magazines and in two extraordinary coffee-table books.
Like many African-American families in the early part of the 20th century, Hinton's family migrated north from Mississippi to Chicago, where he was raised. His mother was a church musician, playing organ and piano, and directing the choir. She bought him a violin for his 13th birthday, which he studied for four years from 1923-27. Later he picked up the bass horn and tuba while studying music at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago. In 1928, he found his voice when he switched to string bass. One of his earliest professional affiliations was with violinist Eddie South, with whom he played intermittently between 1931-36. Other early affiliations included Zutty Singleton, Erskine Tate, Art Tatum, and Jabbo Smith.
Hinton's early career experience was centered around the Cab Calloway Orchestra, with which he worked from 1936-51. After leaving Calloway, he worked with the big bands of Joe Bushkin, Jackie Gleason, Phil Moore, and Count Basie. He played with Louis Armstrong between 1952-55, then became a staff musician for CBS, one of the first African-American musicians welcomed into the TV studios. From 1956 on, Hinton was a much in-demand studio musician, adept at different styles of playing, from the pop of Paul Anka to the jazz of Teddy Wilson. He also was in demand in live settings, performing with Jimmy McPartland, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, and Harry Belafonte, among others. In the 1960s, he became a staff musician at ABC, working on the Dick Cavett Show. In the last decades of his life, Hinton continued to play and record, inspiring new generations of jazz musicians and fans.
He received numerous honorary doctoral degrees and taught jazz at several colleges and universities, including Hunter College, Baruch College, Skidmore College, and Interlochen Music Camp. A 2003 documentary, Keeping Time: The Life, Music + Photographs of Milt Hinton, chronicled his career.
Cab Calloway, Are You Hep to the Jive?, Columbia/Legacy, 1937-47
The Judge at his Best, Chiaroscuro, 1973-95
Back to Bass-ics, Progressive, 1984
Branford Marsalis, Trio Jeepy, Columbia, 1988
Laughing at Life, Columbia, 1995