Milt Hinton – The Judge at his Best: The legendary Chiaroscuro sessions, 1973- 1995
(Chiaroscuro 219. CD Review by Len Weinreich)
This 18-track compilation album features Milt Hinton, bass, with various performers including Ruby Braff, Dick Hyman, Zoot Sims, Joe Venuti, Hank Jones, Jay McShann, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Davern, Flip Phillips and Bucky Pizzarelli.
This album is the product of a relationship between two remarkable individuals.
Our first is double-bass master, Milt Hinton, a.k.a. ‘Sporty’ (a nickname collected in Chicago), ‘Fump’ (during his Cab Calloway stint) and more famously, ‘The Judge’ (after dominating Manhattan’s studios from the 1950s onwards). The Judge had a faultless sense of time and the ability to lay down a magisterial pulse, regardless of musical style. With a nonchalant swing that belied untold hours of intensive practice, he was the power behind the throne of assorted royalty as disparate (and discriminating) as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Lady Day and Sinatra. Hinton’s services were not restricted to jazzdom: the Judge provided rhythmic underpinning for Andre Kostelanetz, Paul Anka, Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney. At a Nice Festival, in the early ‘90s, I witnessed his vaulting onto the stage in response to leader Branford Marsalis’s invitation to sit in with his very modern big band. It generated enough electricity to light the entire Cote d’Azur for a week.
And, as if an exceptional ear weren’t enough, Hinton was also equipped with an exceptional eye. Had he never plucked a string, he would still have earned respect as a photographer of stature. The evidence is published: three superb collections of photographs, mostly of fellow musicians, which have provided invaluable source material for many notable jazz documentaries. Hinton (where did he find the time?) was also a respected teacher (associate professor of double bass at both Hunter and Baruch Colleges) and reached 90 years, an elder statesman of jazz, garlanded with honours and honorary degrees.
Our second remarkable individual is record producer, Hank O’Neal, ex-CIA spook (over a cloak-and-dagger burger near his Broadway office, he vouchsafed to me that his espionage activities involved searching foreign ships at sea to discover whether they were attempting to smuggle illegal salami into U.S. ports. Baloney. Yeah, right). Coincidentally, as well as being an author, publisher, art collector and impresario, O’Neal, like Hinton, happens to be a noted photographer, possessed of a passion for jazz, particularly as practised by artists ignored by jazz fashionistas embracing the next new style. To combat unforgivable neglect, O’Neal launched Chiaroscuro, a label that chronicled the autumnal years of giants as overlooked as Mel Powell, Mary Lou Williams, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti and Earl Hines.
O’Neal compiled this memorial album to present Hinton’s best performances on Chiaroscuro over two decades while providing support for the Milton J. Hinton Scholarship Fund, established to support budding young bass players. Every one of the 18 tracks is anchored by Hinton’s rock-solid presence and peerless technique. And, variously featuring masters like Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Ruby Braff and Lionel Hampton, each track is an object lesson in the forgotten art of exuberant swinging.
Thank you Judge, thank you Hank. A treasure.