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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin




“When I first started out in the ’30s, I took pictures so I could show my family and friends that I’d really been to all those places and knew all those people. Several years later, the guys I was traveling with became my friends and I shot things we all experienced so we could share them later.”

Milt Hilton

Photo courtesy of The Milton J. Hinton Family Collection

Milt Hinton was considered to be to the dean of American jazz bass players. He was also a prolific master photographer. Last week I wrote mostly about his goodness. I was moved when those who knew Milt best told me what a decent man he was.  This decent man carried a camera around with him. It seems that everything he did, he did well. When he brought his camera out he didn’t get many scowls and turns of heads. The musicians knew he could be trusted. Milt Hinton had an unfair advantage when it came to getting up close photos of musicians. He was one them. He honored them by taking pictures of them as he saw them. He spent time playing alongside them, he spent time traveling with them, he shared a coffee or beverage with them and he was indeed their friend. It showed in all his photos. Musicians valued Mr. Hinton not just for his musicianship and versatility but also for his easygoing nature and his professionalism. He earned his nickname, The Judge.

Sure The Judge started taking pictures as a hobby, but make no mistake Milt Hinton took his role as chronicler seriously. He was aware that he was participating in a serious undertaking of historical significance and was always ready to snap the shutter on it.  If you are planning to be part of an era or movement it is important to have someone in your midst that will take notes, Milt raised his hand, He saw his role and filled it. It didn’t hurt that Milt Hinton was one of the most recorded musicians of all time and one of the first great bass soloists in jazz.

Milt said, “I was always concerned about keeping a record of all of this,” “Not to sell it to anybody, not to exploit anybody.”  His good friend, David G Berger said, “I just think he was amazed by what he saw in his life, and he wanted to share it with other people.”

“By the time I was playing in the studios regularly, I had one or two cameras with me all the time. Record companies had great professional photographers come in and shoot sessions, but they kept a close watch on these guys. They’d usually let them in at the beginning and end of a date, or during five-minute breaks. Sometimes I’d see a makeup artist work on a performer for an hour and someone else setting up a background to stage a candid shot. Of course, as a musician hired to play, I could get pictures whenever I wanted. During all those years, I don’t remember anyone ever trying to stop me.”

Milt Hinton

Here are some folks who never took Milt’s camera away from him.

Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Pearl Bailey, Charles Mingus, Bette Midler, Duke Ellington, Barry Manilow, John Coltrane,  Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum and Paul McCartney.

As a freelance musician in Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Milt worked with and musicians with great names like Jabbo Smith, Zutty Singleton and Fate Marable.

With the help of his friend actor/entertainer Jackie Gleason, he became one of the first black musicians to work in the predominantly white studio recording industry.

Count Basie at the Sound of Jazz rehearsal 1959

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988  Photo courtesy The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

“I continued working wherever and whenever I could and then I got a job offer I never expected — a chance to work with [Count] Basie…

“Basie wouldn’t let me get bored. Onstage we’d always be a couple of feet apart and he’d kid with me all night. If we were playing up-tempo and I was walking fast and starting to sweat, he’d tinkle a couple of notes, then lean over to me and say, ‘Go ahead, hog, you’re gonna take it anyway.’ I always broke up.”      Milt Hinton

“ The photos show the way musicians see each other. You look at the pictures, and you can hear the music.”        Milt Hinton


Jazz has been able to look back at itself through the eyes of some great photographers and writers.  We have also had many compelling stories that musicians have passed on themselves. This happens everytime musicians gather when there is someone who happens to be around to chronicle the tales. 

Photographers, however,  have to be there when musicians are interacting to capture the magic. This  is what Milt Hinton was able to do. As a musician, he was allowed in spaces and at times that pro photographers might not be.

“I always tried to capture something different. Whenever possible, I liked to shoot people when they were off guard or unaware. Of course, I was limited in some ways. I didn’t have a flash in the early days, and the film speed was so slow you couldn’t take photographs indoors without using a long exposure. Even so, I did get some unusual shots inside, like pictures of the guys sleeping on the train. There were also times when the stage lights were on and I could use them to get a better indoor exposure.”

Milt Hinton

Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis, classroom, New Orleans, c. 1978

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection


” Although I took a few posed shots, I was never much for taking formal pictures. Everybody was shooting the band onstage in uniform, and if you went to a professional photographer for your own publicity shot, he’d ask you to smile and act like you were playing your instrument. I’ve never wanted to get those kinds of photos because I don’t see musicians that way.”

Milt Hinton

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988  Photo courtesy The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection


Milt’s music and photography are indistinguishable from one another.

The assets that Milt needed to be a great bass player and those that he needed to be a great photographer where one and the same. He had to respect his bandmates and earn their trust. He had to listen. He had to have skills with his instruments.

In the foreword to Milt Hinton’s autobiography Bass Line, jazz critic Dan Morgenstern describes perfectly the psyche of an artist like Milt by enumerating the skills that made him a legendary bassist and, inadvertently, a legendary photographer:

“A good bassist knows how to make the soloists sound better, and thus must be someone who can sublimate his ego for the cause. A good bassist must also be a good listener, able to discern the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the players he is there to support – in sum, a team player. It’s plausible, I think, that this professional perspective also became a personal point of view. In any case, Milt Hinton is a man who knows how to listen well, a man who observes and remembers, and who is compassionate.”

Jazz critic Dan Morgenstern also wrote, “Even the earliest photos… demonstrate [Milt Hinton’s] talent for composition within the frame, his skills as an observer, and his perfect sense of timing — the latter a gift surely akin to his mastery of jazz rhythm.” Just like playing that single note at the right time that fits the chord, harmonizes with the rest of the instruments, and gives the song meaning, so too do photographers click their shutters at the brief moment their subjects line themselves up, the background settles, and the scene achieves its one split-second of consummate poetry. In music, this phenomenon is called swing, taste, and pocket. In photography, this has famously been called “The Decisive Moment.”

Cannonball Adderley, recording studio, New York City, c. 1958

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection


What started as merely a hobby morphed into a conscious effort to master his craft. He usually shot without flash, so he wouldn’t bother other players. He shot almost exclusively in black and white. Milt followed some personal dictates. His task was to leave an honest account of experiences he shared with his subjects. He had some rules. He would listen and observe but he would never exploit his friendship. Milt would never be intrusive, he would not search for their narrative at the subject’s expense.

Jazz critic Dan Morgenstern shares this.

In none of Milt Hinton’s photographs is there ever a sense of voyeurism or glamorization. His photographs of Dizzy sleeping on the train, of Cab Calloway having fun with the community, of Louis Armstrong sitting proudly next to his hotel recording rig, or even of the late Billie Holiday on her last recording session, never feel glamorous or grotesque. He lets the subjects speak for themselves and provide their own human beauty”.

“To call Milt Hinton a historian is not stretching the term. He may not always have been conscious of this role, but his ability to listen, to ask key questions, and to remember well was there almost from the start.”

Friendship exudes from so many of his images.

“…very few [jazz photographers] were privy to so many informal shooting opportunities as Milt, who manifests a trait rare to photographers — discretion. Even when he took those lovely shots of his sleeping colleagues on buses and trains, he never took unfair advantage of them, and his heart rending studies of Billie Holiday nearing the end of her life are devoid of intrusiveness and cruelty.”

Jazz critic Dan Morgenstern


Making the most of a pretty crummy situation, Milt captured the Jim Crow world that he and his fellow musicians had to endure. Only someone who lived through the horrors of segregation themselves would feel free to capture this light hearted moment.

Carol Drake said when showing Milt’s work: “The genius of Milt Hinton was not only in his music, but in his wisdom and foresight to document this era and these icons through photography.”

His images were built upon the simple act of listening and observing with compassion, and for the purpose of lifting his subjects up.

“At some point, probably in the late ’40s, I saw that jazz was changing quickly and there were new faces coming on the scene all the time. Some of the pioneers like Chu [Berry] and Jimmy Blanton were already gone, and some of the other greats were well on their way to early deaths. For some reason, I felt strongly about using my camera to capture people and events from the jazz world that I was lucky enough to see. I guess I realized I was actually living through jazz history.”

– Milt Hinton


There are over 60,000 photos in the Milt Hinton Photographic Collection. There are several published books filled with his written and spoken insights. Here are a few.

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

This photo reeks of humanity. I have learned more from Milt’s image about Dizzy Gillespie and jazz than I have from all his album covers. Milt has shown us why jazz pereserveres

Billie Holiday, last recording session, studio, NYC 1958.

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988  Photo courtesy The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

All of the books, stories, movies and recordings of her are summed up in this one powerful image. It shows the great vocalist’s pained expression as she listens to the playback of her voice with the full realization that this may be her last recording.

Danny Barker and Dizzy Gillespie, train, c. 1940

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Even when he took those lovely shots of his sleeping colleagues on buses and trains, he never took unfair advantage of them, and his heart rending studies of Billie Holiday nearing the end of her life are devoid of intrusiveness and cruelty.”   Jazz critic Dan Morgenster

There was a system to traveling on the road. We’d put on bathrobes and hang around our berths waiting for a turn in the bathroom. After each guy washed and shaved, he’d go to his big H & M trunk in the baggage car, take out a clean suit, go back to the Pullman, and get dressed. We would usually spend the rest of the afternoon in the dining car and then back in the Pullman hanging out, reading, talking, or playing cards.”   Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton, Pittsburgh, c. 1948. Photo Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

“…very few [jazz photographers] were privy to so many informal shooting opportunities as Milt, who manifests a trait rare to photographers — discretion“  Dan Morgenson

Eubie Blake in D.C.  at the White House 1979

Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

Eubie could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand.


David was Milt Hinton’s good friend and collaborator. He put it into Milt’s head that his snapshots and knowledge had value.  When Milt died in 2000 he was confident that his legacy was in good hands, he was deeply aware of his own good fortune and debt to all those who took a chance. Thanks David.

“When I look back at where I’ve come from, I still can’t believe how things have turned out — what I’ve experienced in almost nine decades on this earth, and how lucky I’ve been.”–Milt Hinton


I have been given a task of talking about what goes on inside the walls of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I take pictures and listen. Sometimes I am included in the conversations. My job is to listen and look. My occasional success comes from moments when I feel I belong. This is something Milt Hinton always felt.

John Osler


February 19,20

Allen Dennard


Twenty-four-year-old trumpeter Allen Dennard has one foot firmly planted in the classic jazz canon. The 2016 graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance leads his own rotating jazz ensemble while also regularly playing with the likes of Detroit legends Marion Hayden, Wendell Harrison, and David McMurray. This April saw his first release Stepping In, which evokes the sounds of Miles Davis’ classic quintet.

February 21,22


These undergraduates are perennial overachievers, especially in making us feel good. Corners of mouths start to turn up when they get in a groove. Even those who are smile challenged find themselves grinning. It’s the perfect group for lovers with memories.

67 years ago The Freshman were formed and began replacing barbershop quartets with their new sound. I was a fan of Stan Kenton, and he heavily influenced the young group. It was Stan Kenton who eventually gave the Freshmen a lift up.

Their sound is secure in the hands of the current group who might be the best set of musicians to date. More than just another vocal group, these are jazz musicians who sing. Throughout their history most members of the Four Freshmen have played more than one instrument.

Pack up your gloom and bring your memories to the Dog this week. Help us celebrate  with some good food, great jazz and a lot of smiles.



February 25 only


Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz music’s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen was treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band have named themselves: ” The Dirty Dogs”.

February 26 – 29


Don’t miss this chance to witness some high energy jazz that comes only from Detroit and our young artists.

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