LIVING KINDNESS: A MILT HINTON STORY

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!

6 responses to “LIVING KINDNESS: A MILT HINTON STORY

  1. I grew up with Milt and Mona in my life. He and Dad were great buddies and colleagues, working together (or passing each other) every day in the NYC studios of the 50’s and 60’s…and drinking together at Jim & Andy’s, with a breathtaking assortment of stellar fellow musicians.

    The last time Dad and Milt played together was on 1973’s “Swing, Guitars,” the 2nd George Barnes Quartet album. I was a kid working at A&R Recording, and sat in the control room for those sessions; it was (as usual!) a pure delight to lean back, close my eyes, and listen to their easy magic.

    If he wasn’t holding his bass, or a glass, Milt had a camera; several of my favorite shots in our archives were taken by him (including one with 7-year-old me and Bucky Pizzarelli taken at 3am, holding one of my father’s guitars after a predictably long Three Suns session). And if Milt was in the shot, its because he’d handed the camera to my mom for her to capture the moment.

    Mona was elegant and beautiful and warm; they shone as a couple…must be why I always felt warm and loved in their company.

  2. Well, you KNOW! Jo Jones was on that date, too . . . I have two portraits of Milt at work — at an outdoor concert c. 1981 — that he autographed for me, on the wall of my apartment. He was like a warm sun. We are so lucky to have passed through his shining aura.

  3. Mr. Milt Hinton was a true gentleman and master talent ! It was a great pleasure in meeting Mr. Hinton at St. Peters Jazz Church on Lexington!
    James D. Comer

  4. wonderful story, i saw the judge many times, and guess what? people cheered after his solos-remember? also met him at an exhibit of his photos with his wife,

  5. People like Milt had The Presence. Everything about them adds up to more than a sum of parts. Louis had it. Duke, Hawkins, Benny Carter. A few others. Some are called and drawn with irresistible magnetism to give it, some to receive it, some both.

    They knew the obligation to pass on their accrued presence to the youngsters. Race, physical attributes, means nothing, sincerity is all.

    Milt was generous from an abundance of riches and at the same time if you took something you didn’t really need he knew. And you knew that he knew. Sharing is encouraged, hoarding forbidden.

    He taught that one could only be assured of knowledge and gifts to the degree you could pass them on ‘…from your head to someone else’.

    A treasured photo taken at the 1995 Newport Jazz Festival:

    Danny, Stu and Milt

  6. You understood Hintonian ways long before I wrote this post, Mister Lovet.

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