Tag Archives: Butch Miles

“THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR JOY”: REMEMBERING MILT HINTON

MILT

Milton John Hinton (1910-2000).

“The Judge.”  Universally beloved.  Here, with Herb Ellis, guitar; Larry Novak, piano; Butch Miles, drums:

I have The Judge in my mind as a sweetly heroic presence because he is on so many of the recordings that have shaped my consciousness.  I also have two photographic portraits of him (which he autographed for me in 1981) in my apartment, next to the door.  When I come in or go out, he is there to welcome me home or to wish me safe passage on the day’s journey.

He’s also powerfully in my thoughts because I went to the house in which he and Mona Hinton lived for decades — 173-05 113rd Avenue, Jamaica, New York — last Saturday (June 13) for an estate sale.  More about that later.

First, a reminiscence of Milt from a friend, Stu Zimny, whom I’ve known since high school, 1969.  We were comrades in eccentricity, united in our shared secret love of Milt, of Jo Jones, of Ed Beach, S.J. Perelman — playing records at each others’ houses, going to concerts and clubs.  Swing spies.  Jazz acolytes.

Danny Barker, Stu Zimny, Milt Hinton 1995

Danny Barker, Stu Zimny, Milt Hinton 1995

From Stu:

It was in the late-70’s sometime when I first met Milt Hinton.

It was a strange time in the music’s history. Although rock music had firmly enveloped the attention of most of my generation, my own musical trajectory was towards the the jazz of the 1930’s.  I had heard the incandescence of Louis Armstrong and his many disciples and was converted quickly. There was a power to this music unique in my experience. It is more common now in the internet age but we, myself and the author of this sacred blog in particular, formed a distinct minority, a sort of rear-guard action devoted to preserving this music.  Yet at that time there were still significant numbers of players of that “swing generation” alive and at least semi-active and one could see them play intermittently in certain mostly short-lived clubs in Manhattan and the occasional concert.  Although the general sentiment was that we had arrived a few decades too late.

I had heard that Milt was teaching a jazz seminar at Hunter College, I had taken up study of the double-bass shortly before, had lucked upon and acquired an excellent “axe,” and Milt was a legendary figure to bassists in particular.

In a fortuitous stroke of luck I encountered Milt on the subway on the ride to Hunter. (Milt was a frequent rider of the NYC subway system since he did not drive a car. The story goes that he had been driving a vehicle in Chicago decades before, as a gofer of some sort for the Al Capone organization, and a bad accident occurred which had traumatized him for life against driving a motorized vehicle.) I drove him to a fair number of gigs during the next few years for the mere opportunity to hang out and absorb what I might. Capone’s loss was my gain.

On the “A” train I gathered up my courage and struck up a conversation with him, the ultimate outcome of which was that if I wanted some tutoring I could drop by his home in Queens.  He did not need to make the offer twice. Especially since his attendance at Hunter was spotty due to his being on the road quite a bit.

Milt never really offered me “lessons” as such.  Although he did hand me a manuscript of scale patterns and suggested I work on them “for the next thirty years” and gave me a whole lot of physical advice about dealing with the bass. I would bring him bass music, usually some classical etude or duet, and we would play through it together. He was always up for the challenge. The mere fact that he would be willing to play with me and treat me like a colleague was a huge confidence boost.

Of course it was not only me who benefited from his largesse. Many bassists (and other instrumentalists) would drop by, most often just to hang out with an elder, “The Dean of Jazz Bassists.” Milt and Mona were extremely gracious and generous in opening their home to musicians. And feeding us, and making us feel like family, and part of a lineage that required support and protection.

Throughout the next decade or so I would drop by, often in a vain attempt to help him organize the pile of the concert tapes and recordings collecting in his basement.

In 1989 I departed the east for directions west. When I came back for visits if Milt was in town he was always open for a rendezvous “between sets.”

I recall seeing him at the 1995 Monterey Jazz Festival and in San Diego at some sort of convocation. On the latter occasion, with minimal rehearsal, he was offered some pretty complex charts and played through them with ease. This was not an old guy resting on past accomplishments, he was fully alive to the music, to all music.

Sometimes players like Clark Terry and Major Holley would drop by. The basement couch was famous for having been used for sleep by Ben Webster during a period when he lived with the Hintons or at least paid an extended visit: I never knew which. Sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions.

The last time I saw Milt was around 1997 after I had returned east and lived in the Boston area. By that time he had stopped playing for physical reasons.  I heard of his passing via an NPR broadcast in 2000 at age 90.

Milt has been a major influence in my life, musically and moreover in modeling what it means to be an elder and the tribal obligation and joy of passing on knowledge and skills and musical tradition.

He was cross-cultural in the warmest and most charming and sincere ways; he insisted on wearing a yarmulka when attending the Jewish wedding of a mutual friend of ours.

Despite the hardships he had experienced growing up in the south, the depredations of growing up as a Black person in that era, he never harbored personal resentment about any of it that I could tell towards any individual.  He had an immense sense of dignity and a conscious sense of his own worth and that of his colleagues as men and artists; race was a secondary consideration.  He would say that “music has no color”.  This was also what motivated his legendary photographic documentation.  History was important, preserving it is important, this music is important. And if one was sincere in wanting to learn, he was available.

I am a better person for having known Milt Hinton, tribal chief, The Judge!

We cannot live through the dead, but we can invite them to live through us.

I love him always and forever.

It would be an impudence to follow that with my own tales of Milt.

I will say only that the phrase I’ve taken as my title was spoken by Ruby Braff from the stage of The New School in New York City, at a “Jazz Ramble” concert produced by Hank O’Neal on April 8, 1973 — featuring Ruby, Sam Margolis, Benny Aronov, and Milt.  Ruby spoke the truth.  Thanks to Tom Hustad, whose BORN TO PLAY — the Ruby Braff discography — for helping me be exact in my recollection.

MILT autograph 1983

Fast forward to June 13, 2015.

I had been seriously ambivalent about going to this estate sale.  As I told more than one friend, I didn’t know whether I would be frozen at the door, or, once in, would burst into tears.  Happily, neither took place.  My spiritual guide and comic comrade on line (as opposed to “online”) was Scott Robinson, and we made the time spent waiting in the sun telling tales of Milt. (Later, I met Phil Stern, and we, too, talked of music, joy, and sorrow, of empires rising and falling.)

Here, thanks to Phil, is the promotional video created by the company running the sale:

By the time I was able to enter the house, sometime around 10:00, I discerned that much of the more glossy contents had already been sold.  (I would have bought a chair covered in plastic from this shrine without thinking twice.)  And I sensed that the house had — apparently — been unoccupied since Mona’s death in 2008.  It was not quiet indoors: people shouted and argued.  I was in the land of secular commerce rather than dear worship.  I do not know how many people going in knew who Milt was; before and after my time indoors, I explained what I could of his majesty to a number of people outside who simply had seen ESTATE SALE and stopped by.

I have a limited tolerance for loud voices in small spaces, so I did not look through the hundreds of records in the basement (in cardboard boxes on and in front of the couch on which Ben Webster had slept).  But I bought about ten of Milt’s lps — going back to the early Fifties, mostly records I’d not heard or heard of on which he played.  His collection — even when I got there — was broad, with children’s records and comedy as well.  And he collected his friends’ records also.

Sitting by themselves on top of a pile of books — two 78s.  One, a 1932 Brunswick, Connee Boswell performing HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF and THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN — which touched me and made me think of Milt as a young man rapt in the beauty of Connee’s voice and her wonderful accompaniment of the time (Berigan, the Dorsey Brothers, Dick McDonough, Artie Bernstein, Venuti, Stan King).

The other deserves its own picture.  It has been well-played, but that is a triumph rather than a criticism.

MILT 78Although Milt and Billie Holiday were not regularly recording together, their history on record is a long one — 1936 to 1959 — and I am sure he was proud of the music they made together.  I imagine Milt in 1939 bringing home this new release, which he would have been thrilled to possess and hear — perhaps showing his name on the label to his new bride. (Incidentally, the Brunswick people invented a new guitarist — Dave Barber — instead of properly identifying Milt’s dear comrade in the Cab Calloway band, Danny Barker.  The other side, WHAT SHALL I SAY? has the same error.)

Such a beloved artifact made all the clangor of commerce worthwhile, although I still think sadly of the rubble of mugs in the kitchen, the piles of posters, aging books and records.  Where did they go?  I hope that the rarer items had already gone to a place where they would be treasured.

Stu learned lessons about playing the bass from Milt that he couldn’t have learned any other way, and I celebrate his experience.  But I think we both learned much — even though we might not have understood it at the time — from these men who were, without proclaiming it, great spiritual parents.  We learn from the open-hearted behavior of the greatest teachers.

They treated us with gentleness and respect, an amused kindness, saying by their openness that we were welcome in their world.  No one ever said, “Kid, I’m busy now.  Go away.”

Our real parents might have taken our devotion for granted, or been very busy trying to make us become what they thought we should be, but many of these Elders were happy to know we existed — without trying to get us to buy anything from them.  They accepted our love, and I feel they welcomed it and returned it. In their music and their behavior, they taught by example: the value of beauty, of simplicity; how to say in a few notes something that would take the hearer years to fully grasp.  How to make our actions mean something.

We were able to see and hear and speak with the noblest artists on the planet, and it is an honor to celebrate one of them, The Judge, whose quiet modest majesty will never fade.

May your happiness increase!  

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THE MUSIC SPEAKS FOR ITSELF: THE WEST TEXAS JAZZ PARTY (May 14-17, 2015)

I could write a long piece on the history of the West Texas Jazz Party — in Odessa, Texas — which in 2016 will celebrate its fiftieth year.  This, for those keeping count, makes it the longest-running jazz party in existence.  I could list the names of the luminaries who played, say, in 1980 — Red Norvo, John Best, Lou Stein, Carl Fontana, Kenny Davern, George Masso, Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Flip Phillips, Dave McKenna, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson, PeeWee Erwin, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Rosengarden, John Bunch, Buddy Tate, and the still-vibrant Ed Polcer, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore, Bob Wilber.

The West Texas Jazz Society site can be found here — quite informative.

But I think it is more important to offer the evidence: the music made at this party, which is superb Mainstream jazz.  Here are several videos from the 2013 WTJP — they will unfold in sequence if you allow them to — featuring Ken Peplowski, Ehud Asherie, Ed Metz, Joel Forbes, Chuck Redd, Randy Sandke, and John Allred:

And the musicians themselves speak sweetly about the pleasure of attending the party and playing there (Ken, Chuck Redd, Dan Barrett, Bucky):

The superb videos — both music and interview — are the work of David Leonnig, who’s also helped inform me about the Party.

This year’s party will take place May 14-17, at the MCM Eleganté Hotel
in Odessa, Texas and the musicians are:

Piano: Johnny Varro, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello
Bass: Joel Forbes. Frank Tate, Nicki Parrott (vocals)
Drums: Chuck Redd (vibes), Tony Tedesco, Butch Miles
Trumpet: Ed Polcer, Warren Vache, Randy Sandke
Trombone: Dan Barrett, John Allred
Reeds: Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, Allan Vache
Guitar: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub (vocals)
Vocals: Rebecca Kilgore

The West Texas Jazz Party is sponsored in part by:

• The Texas Commission for the Arts
• Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities
• The Rea Charitable Trust

Patron Tickets: $200: Reserved Seating for all performances and Saturday Brunch.

General Admission: Each performance $50 • Brunch $50

For Hotel Reservations, call 432-368-5885 and ask tor the Jazz Rate of $129.00. For Jazz Party or Brunch Reservations, call 432-552-8962. The WTJP now is accepting credit cards or make a check payable to: West Texas Jazz Society • P.O. Box 10832 • Midland, Texas 79702.

It looks as if a good time will be had by all. For the forty-ninth consecutive year!

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC TO LOVE BY: DAN BARRETT, JOHN ALLRED, JASON WANNER, EDDIE ERICKSON, RICHARD SIMON, BUTCH MILES (2014 San Diego Jazz Party)

We’re not always aware of all the beauty surrounding us, so I post this video as a spiritual-public service: an old love song played with the utmost tender mastery in a swinging 4 / 4. (“Basie tempo,” the scientists tell us, is a proven aphrodisiac. Ask anyone.)

It’s IF I HAD YOU, performed with great style by trombonists Dan Barrett and John Allred, with Jason Wanner, piano; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Richard Simon, string bass; Butch Miles, drums:

This was recorded on February 22, 2014 at the very happy jazz weekend known as the San Diego Jazz Party, where sweet swing is the main dish on the very welcoming menu.

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21, 2014)

Here is the first installment of my delighted reportage from the San Diego Jazz Party, complete with music.  I had a wonderful time there, and I wasn’t alone: the audience was happy and the musicians likewise. The collective pleasure is reflected in the music.

I present three more living examples.

SOLITUDE (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

CHEROKEE (as above):

IN A LITTLE GYPSY TEAROOM (Eddie Erickson, vocal / guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone / vocal; Becky Kilgore, vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

A moody evocation of a classic Ellington ballad, a swinging version of a timeless jazz standard (thanks to Ray Noble), and a Thirties romantic romp, complete with impromptu group harmony, lots of fun, and a nice cup of tea.  Who would ask for more?

And, for those keeping track — Fabulous Friday had more than these six performances to offer, to enthrall . . . it was succeeded by Super Saturday and Sublime Sunday.  If you had any doubts.

May your happiness increase!

FABULOUS FRIDAY at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Part One): FEBRUARY 21, 2014

A week ago (that would be February 21) I was ready to have fun at my first-ever San Diego Jazz Party.  And I certainly did.  The music below will speak — and play and sing — for itself, but the SDJP was a real pleasure . . . comfort all around, the details managed gently and wisely, the musicians smiling.  As were we.

Here are a few shining examples of how fine the music was, how comfortable the musicians were . . . couldn’t ask for more!

If you need more words — data, information, facts —   here is what I wrote about the party as it was in progress.  But I think you’ll want to hear and see some of the joyousness first.

WABASH BLUES (Ed Polcer, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Antti Sarpila, soprano saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Cocuzzi, piano; Richard Simon, string bass; Ed Metz, drums):

ROBBINS’ NEST (John Allred, trombone; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibes; Jason Wanner, piano; Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums):

THE FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE (Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ed Metz, percussion and miscellaneous instruments):

That, dear friends, is just a sample of how delicious the whole weekend was.  And my videos — which I am proud of — can’t convey the whole experience.  You’ll just have to be there in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD, BETTER, BEST: SWEET NOTES FROM THE 26th SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY

The musicians are taking a break; it’s too early for another meal; what should I do?  I can share my joy at being at the San Diego Jazz Party, that’s what.

It’s only about twenty percent through (there’s still a full day-and-a-half of music to come) but it has been splendid.  Nicely organized, humanely planned — all the things that make a jazz weekend comfortable as well as gratifying — and the music last night was often spectacular.  You can find out the complete list of players here but I just want to speak of a few delicious moments that happened last night so you, too, can get a taste . . .

Even before the official festivities began, there was wonderful music during the cocktail hour: Harry Allen, Dan Barrett, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, and Dave Stone started slow and easy and then romped through a closing IDAHO; Antti Sarpila, Chuck Redd, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, and Nicki Parrott followed with a passionate NEW ORLEANS and an old-school SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL.

(During the soundcheck that followed, Sarpilla sat down at the piano and quietly — as if no one had been listening — played a sweet, streamlined DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, which was a private treat.)

A ten-minute swaggering WABASH BLUES was offered to us by Ed Polcer, Bria, Antti, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi, Richard Simon, Ed Metz.  A smaller group — John Allred, Harry Allen, Chuck Redd, Jason Wanner, Dave Stone, and Butch Miles — showed us what Groovy and Sweet meant in less than half an hour, with a coasting ROBBINS’ NEST, a from-the-heart SOLITUDE, and an exuberant CHEROKEE.  Becky Kilgore, looking mighty glamorous, took the stage with old pals Barrett and Erickson, Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, and Ed Metz for a set that culminated in the best FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE since Ivie Anderson, and a Romany duo: Becky’s own THE GYPSY (which began with a tender Sportiello-Barrett duet) followed by Eddie’s narrative of finding love and caffeine, IN A LITLE GYPSY TEAROOM.

And four more sets followed!  How about a duo of Venerables Bucky Pizzarelli and Mundell Lowe (the latter now 91) for — among other beauties — I REMEMBER YOU and an Oscar Pettiford blues?  Bria Skonberg told us all about Ruth Etting and then sang and played — with real ardor — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.  Houston Person wooed the crowd with medium-tempo ballads and Ellington; Anti Sarpilla took out his curved soprano for SUMMERTIME and his clarinet for RUNNIN’ WILD, and a band of Harry Allen, Bria, and Dan Barrett, Rossano, Richard Simon, and Butch Miles created a hot THEM THERE EYES, which made many pairs shine and gleam.

If you were in the audience, you know I am understating what we all saw and heard.  More to come.  Save your quarters, make your plans for 2105.

May your happiness increase! 

FEBRUARY COULD BE THE WARMEST MONTH, IF YOU’RE PROPERLY SITUATED: THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (February 21-23, 2014)

Although it is the shortest month, February has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness.  But this February could change all the bad press, if you can make it to the San Diego Jazz Party.

The Party begins Friday, February 21 and continues at a leisurely pace to Sunday, February 24, 2014, at the Hilton San Diego / Del Mar (15575 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014-1901 — (800) 833-7904 (toll-free) / (858) 792-5200 (local) / (858) 792-9538 (fax).

Here is the Party’s site.

They’ve been doing a fine job of presenting classic mainstream jazz since 1988, when these musicians who appeared at the first Party, a list that makes me very nostalgic:

John Clayton, Jr. (b); Bob Haggart (b); Milt Hinton (b); Kenny Davern (cl); Peanuts Hucko (cl); Bob Wilber (cl); Jake Hanna (d); Gus Johnson, Jr. (d); Butch Miles (d); Herb Ellis (g); Bucky Pizzarelli (g); Dick Hyman (p); Paul Smith (p); Ralph Sutton (p); Scott Hamilton (ts); Flip Phillips (ts); Marshal Royal (as); Buddy Tate (ts); Al Grey (tb); George Masso (tb); Bill Watrous (tb); Ed Polcer (co); Warren Vaché (co); Snooky Young (t).

The 2014 list of players and singers is just as inspiring: Harry Allen, John Allred, Dan Barrett, John Cocuzzi, John Eaton, Eddie Erickson, Rebecca Kilgore, Mundell Lowe, Ed Metz Jr., Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Houston Person Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Polcer, Chuck Redd, Antti Sarpilla, Richard Simon, Bria Skonberg, Rossano Sportiello, Dave Stone, Johnny Varro, Jason Wanner.

On that list, players born in 1922 and 1926: will we have decades to see their like again? And — to balance it all out — there are Youngbloods born in 1978 and only a little earlier. Men and women, American and European, a lovely diversified mix — but with one common goal, to swing memorably and melodically.

And when you look here, at how the sets have been planned — you can see how intelligently this Party has been laid out. All the music is in one ballroom of a comfortable hotel (so no rushing from room to room); the music runs from late afternoon Friday to late afternoon Sunday with breaks for meals, and the layout of who-plays-when is wise and sensible. There’s a comforting awareness of an audience’s need for dynamics, for variety, so solo piano sets and duos for piano, for guitar, alternate with quartets and quintets.  There is one eleven-person blowout and that is appropriately on Saturday night.

As to those important questions, “Can I / we get there?” “Can I / we afford it?” you’re on your own and only by visiting the site will you find answers to these questions. I do think that a weekend like this is worth its weight in YouTube videos and CDs, but that’s me.

Worth repeating, I think: many jazz fans spend much energy lamenting What Was. “Were you there at the sessions when Kitty Katz and the Persian Hairballs would play MY LITTLE BIMBO or C JAM BLUES for weeks at a time? That club / festival / party is now gone and I miss it so.”  I miss it too. But I know why it’s no longer here, and so do you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Scatman Crothers said, “It is better to Do Something than to Lament in your den.  The things you love will evaporate if you aren’t participating in them.”

See you at San Diego on February 21st! Details here. And if you want to tell them, “I only did it to stop that pesky JAZZ LIVES from tugging at my cyber-clothes and hissing “Carpe diem!” in my ear, I will accept the stigma and the guilt.

May your happiness increase!