Experience the jazz world from the lens of Hinton's camera

Bass Line

The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton

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Milt Hinton and David G. Berger

"Milton Hinton is an artist not only with his bass but with his camera as well. An astute observer of people and a real gentleman, he brings out the best of everyone around him. Milt and David Berger have collaborated on a book I truly love."
Doc Severinsen

Milt Hinton, the "dean of bass players," has experienced the jazz world firsthand for more than five decades. A member of Cab Calloway's orchestra for sixteen years, he has played with most of the jazz greats of this century including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout his career he has photographed artists and personalities in the music scene who have been his mentors, colleagues, and friends. In this book Milt Hinton presents in words and photographs an intimate view of the jazz world.

This first person account of his life chronicles his early years in Vicksburg, Mississippi, his family's migration north, and his experiences growing up in Chicago's Southside. Colorful vignettes recall his first jobs as a professional musician and the texture of black urban life in the twenties.

As Cab Calloway's bass player, Hinton was part of the New York City music scene in the thirties and forties. His memoir recalls his relationships with well-known musicians and band life on the road, especially as it was affected by segregation. His evocative descriptions of the Cotton Club, the golden age of Harlem, and the subculture of musicians portray a mythic era in the music world.

From the mid-fifties to the late sixties, Milt Hinton worked as a freelance studio musician in New York. He describes the studio life, discusses the ways in which the music industry changed, and concludes with his recent activities in music. Throughout the book, approximately 200 photographs, most of which have never before been published, enhance the intimate stories that record a life, a way of life, and a cultural heritage.



In 1925 our family rented a beautiful place at 4143 Vincennes, which had been all white a short time before. We belonged to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which had been at 35th and Dearborn for years. But after the Southside grew, the church moved into a synagogue it bought at 45th and Vincennes. I still have a mental picture of Reverend Thomas—tall, fair-skinned with long white hair, looking like the Lord himself, standing up in front of the two Stars of David which had been carved in the stone pulpit by the former owners.

Because I was the one in the family who usually looked after Mama, and religion played such a big part in her life, I had to spend a lot of time in church. Needless to say, like most teenagers, I found the whole scene very boring. But Mama seemed to recognize the problem and she was pretty understanding about it. Even though she'd sit in the first or second row, she let me stay up in the balcony, which was usually empty, and I could read or talk to my friends.

There was one experience I had I'll never forget. Shortly after the church moved to the new building, Reverend Thomas died and a new minister was hired. After a couple of months members of the congregation began complaining about him, accusing him of using church funds for his personal benefit. The deacons investigated and decided to fire the minister. But he refused to leave, even after they'd hired a replacement.

The showdown come one Sunday when the deacons were escorting the new man down the aisle to the pulpit and the old minister refused to step down. There was shouting and fists started flying. It was good I was there, because by the time the real violence began, I'd already swung over the front rail of the balcony, jumped down about eight or nine feet to the first floor, and was moving Mama out of the building.

—From "Coming Up in Chicago"



"Milt Hinton is not only one of the great bassists in the history of jazz, but a gifted and important photographer as well.... Rarely, if ever, has someone on the inside of the jazz world been gifted with such fine photographic instinct."
Modern Photography



Foreword – Dan Morgenstern
1. Prologue: Vicksburg
2. Coming Up in Chicago
3. Cab
4. The Studios
5. Epilogue: Today


About the Author(s)

David G. Berger is Associate Professor of Sociology at Temple University.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Art and Photography
African American Studies



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