Milt Hinton: lessons in bass playing – and kindness

July 4, 2014 at 3:31 pm (humanism, jazz, love, posted by JD, Sheer joy)

I’d intended to post something at the end of last month, on the occasion of what would have been his 104th birthday, about the great jazz bassist Milt ‘The Judge’ Hinton (June 23 1910 – Dec 19 2000); but for one reason and another I  didn’t get round to it.

Anyway in the Youtube video below Milt gives a lesson in jazz bass playing. And below that is a heart-warming story from fellow-bassist Bob Cranshaw, via my pal Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives.

Michael Steinman writes: The extraordinary pianist Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus) has a superb blog called DO THE MATH, and most recently he has offered a lengthy, lively conversation with string bassist Bob Cranshaw here. This story seized me.

BC:  Milt Hinton was one of the first bass players that I heard. This was before TV. I heard him on the radio. I think he was my biggest influence. When I heard him play, the shit was swinging so hard that the radio was about to jump off the table. I went to my father, and I said, “I want to play that.”

I have a story about Milt when I came to New York. I had been in New York maybe a few months, and I was on 48th and Broadway. I was on my way to rehearsal with somebody and I had a bag on my bass that was raggedy and about to fall off, but I couldn’t afford anything else. I was walking down to the rehearsal and this gentleman dressed with a tie stopped me on the street. He said, “Hi. What’s your name?” I said, “Bob Cranshaw.” He said, “Are you a professional bassist?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “I’m Milt Hinton.” I said, “Oh, shit.” It was like meeting God. Here’s my mentor.

He took me into Manny’s and he bought me a bass case on the spot.

EI:  Really? Hadn’t even heard you play a note?

BC:  Took me and bought me a bass case right there. He said as a professional, I couldn’t be walking around with a bag like that. What I teach in my method and my thought of music is, I say, “The Milt Hinton Method,” because when I came, I followed Milt around. I used to just go. They were doing a lot of recording. They were recording all day. I would just go to the date and I would sit on the side. I didn’t want to disturb anybody, but just to watch him. What I got from watching him was when – it could be 50 musicians – when The Judge walked into the room, you could feel the energy. Everybody was talking. That was the kind of guy he was. That was the life. He was my biggest, my most wonderful influence, was watching The Judge. When I started to play, when I started to work with Joe Williams and so forth, Milt did all the record dates. He was part of the rhythm section with Osie Johnson and a couple other guys. I would go to the dates and just watch him because I was working with Joe and I was going to have to play the same music the next week. I said, “I might as well get it from the horse’s mouth. Let me get the first thing and then I have a better understanding of what I need to play when we go out on the road with Joe Williams.”

I followed Milt’s career all the way to the point where I used to call him every Sunday. I’d say, “Judge, I just want me blessing,” just to talk to him and so forth. One Sunday I called, and his wife said, “The Judge is at a club meeting.” I’m saying, “He’s almost 90 years old. What kind of club meeting? What could he be into now?” There was a club called the Friendly Fifties that are in New York and I’m a member now. I joined following his thing. It was what guys like Jonah Jones and a bunch of the older guys put together, this club, so that the wives could be more together when they were traveling. These were the early days. I became part of the Friendly Fifties, and I wrote an article for Allegro at the union about all of these famous guys that were part of this club that nobody had any idea it existed.

I love the rest of the stories — because Milt in person was the embodiment of Wise Joy — but it is the little anecdote of the bass case that catches me and will not subside into a Nice Anecdote about One of My Heroes. You will notice that Milt didn’t lecture the young man about how wrong he was; he didn’t sell him a case and ask for money to be paid back; he was serious but gently fixed what was wrong with loving alacrity.

We all praise Kindness as a virtue.  We try to be Kind.  But how many of us would have made it so vibrantly alive as Milt did?  Kindness in Action.

Several years ago, I wrote a post I am still proud of: I called it What Would Louis Do?.

Meaning Louis no disrespect, I would like to propose the quiet religion of Hintonism. Nothing new except the name. Doing good without asking for recompense. Taking good care of a stranger.

When we lie down in bed at night, we could ask ourselves, “Did I do my Milt today?”  If we did, fine.  We could try to do several Milts the next day, and ever onwards.  We might have less money, but we’d be surrounded by love and that love would surely be immortal.  Just a thought.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Milt Hinton: lessons in bass playing – and kindness | OzHouse said,

    […] Jul 04 2014 by admin […]

  2. Robert R. Calder said,

    lovely man, met him in Edinburgh, he really danced that bass, and had his priorities right. First thing you need is time, not meaning hours (though these are needed too) but the when of every sound you make with the bass. If a student has that, Milt said to a lot of people on TV, it’s a just a matter of learning where to put his or her fingers.

    I have heard long moans from friends on the continent about their misfortune the virtuoso deliverer of notes not support. One of those turned up in Glasgow with some seriously able musicians in a New York rehearsal band. Who should have stayed in their Manhattan loft — there was a joke about putting a boxing glove on their bassist’s plucking fingers, to improve the music. In comes the trumpeter, ken, and it’s hard bop, OK, and there’s this snowstorm of pointless virtue-short-ossity behind him …

    Another Milt story comes from an interview long ago, Milt talking about his background and when asked about bass-guitar saying he’d been interested enough and in sufficient regular employment to go buy one for his amusement and information and basement use.

    Then he got the first telephone call, asking how he was doing and was he still getting jobs, and all because he had been seen coming out of a music shop with a bass guitar. The thought of Milt Hinton taking a gig on bass guitar was a real affront, and one gathered that there had almost been a collection got up to ensure Milt never needed to take a gig on bass guitar.

    I gather he liked teaching but like some of his European-born neighbours on the Atlantic seaboard chose but did not charge his pupils. On the admirable film I remember from long ago now, Milt spoke about his father and the rule never eat or drink on an empty stomach without having done some work beforehand. Work first, eat next.

    I do like that suite for several basses, organised for Milt and his stringslapping. The late much-mourned Francis Cowan was a Scottish string-player who when I mentioned to him that Milt was coming to Edinburgh said that he seemed to have found pretty well everything in his jazz bass work from hearing Milt on record. And like Walter Page and the other members of the second generation of jazz bassists he was as he says in the YouTube clip a devotee of the New Orleans bassists, not the least of them Steve Brown, who played with Paul Whiteman and worked out so much of the business of proper jazz bass-work he did in one of his hands, poor man. Milt mentions him, Gratitude! Like a soloist should feel for the bass-work he is moving in!

  3. tomgeorgearts said,

    How does he talk at the same time as playing?!

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