Art Works Blog

From the Archives: Milt Hinton's Jazz Eye

Washington, DC

Billie Holiday in black turtleneck stands behind a microphone with her head down and a drink in her hand.

Photo of Billie Holiday by NEA Jazz Master Milt Hinton.

Billie Holiday, last recording session, studio, NYC, 1958. Photo by Milt Hinton © 1988 The Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection

In 1977, jazz bassist Milt Hinton received a music fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; sixteen years later, the Arts Endowment again honored Hinton, this time as an NEA Jazz Master. Hinton's jazz legacy includes not only his musicianship and work as a jazz educator, however, but also the Milton J. Hinton Collection, a trove of more than 60,000 photographs documenting the history of jazz through most of the 20th century.

Raised in 1920s Chicago, young Hinton studied violin, bass horn, cello, and tuba before finding his voice on the string bass. Early gigs included work with Art Tatum and more than a decade with the Cab Calloway Orchestra. In the 1950s Hinton, nicknamed The Judge, played with bandleaders including Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. He then worked at CBS as a staff musician, one of the first African-American musicians to work in television. Later, Hinton joined ABC, working as a musician for The Dick Cavett Show.

Throughout the mid-20th century, Hinton was in demand not only as a studio musician, but also as a live performer, working with such luminaries as Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, and Barbra Streisand. His discography includes more than 24 albums with Hinton appearing as both a leader and a guest.

Hinton first took up photography as a hobby in the 1930s. Over the next several decades his lens captured an extensive range of jazz and pop artists on the road, in recording studios, at parties, and at home. Hinton's photographs have appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Downbeat, as well as in documentaries on jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, and (fellow NEA Jazz Master) Quincy Jones. Before his death in 2000, Hinton also exhibited his photography in a number of shows and published two collections of his work.

Although Hinton's NEA awards were for his work as a jazz musician, he used his fellowships to support his equally important work as a jazz photographer. The support he received from the Arts Endowment enabled Hinton to archive his extensive photo collection, including the identification of prints and negatives and the creation of contact sheets and enlargements.

"The initial support of the NEA was crucial to the launching of my [photography] project," Hinton said in a 1993 interview. "And because of the NEA I have been able to share my visual experience of the jazz world with thousands of people across the world."

Visit the Milt Hinton website to view more work from this treasure trove of jazz images. Want to nominate someone to be a NEA Jazz Master? Visit our Jazz Masters page to learn more.

Add new comment