Welcome to the real new millennium. The year Stanley Kubrick warned us about has finally arrived.
With the passing of the 20th century -- the first real century of jazz history -- I'm dogged by the notion that with each beginning there lingers a companionable melancholy for that which has ended. Over time, that melancholy becomes nostalgia and, often, the occasion of a new beginning that imitates music in a "D.C. al fine" way.
So it is with some mixture of anticipation and sadness that I greet the new century as I review the roster of greats who've come and gone. You've all seen them listed in your local newspapers' annual "year in review" pieces, and, if you resemble me, there are many of the greats whose careers are of constant fascination and, therefore, worthy of constant study.
In addition to the music, we celebrate the artist, we jazz fans, and we do it sometimes with a set of one-dimensional spectacles that limits our view of the achievements of masters whose music we admire without considering their roundedness, their other-lives that knock off the sharp edges of, say, a rough childhood or a criminal record, or a long apprenticeship that elevates those personalities to the dais of praiseworthiness.
Such a one was Milt Hinton, a jazz bassist whose unerring sense of time caused his contemporaries to dub him "The Judge" and who is often referred to in the idolatrous tones reserved for the Buddha, or the Messiah, or the Dalai Lama. For Hinton's death at 90 on December 19, 2000, in Queens, N.Y., brought a sad but fitting end to a century that saw the too-often obscure rise of such as he.
Hinton's talents were not confined to jazz. He was an accomplished photographer; jazz journalist; autobiographer; composer of music for motion pictures, television and radio; music professor; and studio journeyman for every style of music that can be squeezed between New Orleans and Liverpool.
Consider this list of luminaries whose recordings feature the distinctive Hinton bass sound: Paul Anka, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis, Jr., Patti LaBelle, Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Pearl Bailey, Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo.
Add to the list Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, Teddy Wilson, then throw a dart at a jazz board to choose any other great musical name and you will begin to comprehend the scope of Hinton's supportive influence on the music we love.
If the drummer is the heartbeat of any musical ensemble, the bassist is a partner in pumping the blood, and it is no exaggeration to assert that Milt Hinton was instrumental in keeping many a musical career alive with his steady, swinging, natural-yet-focused sense of time. To quote Clark Terry, "When you work with The Judge, you know youre gonna get some time."
A native of Mississippi, Hinton came by his blues-based roots in the honest way and, in a career that spanned seven decades, he brought the influence of many of the older jazz luminaries to the cusp of the new millennium. We are indebted to The Judge for the continuing flavors in the great jazz stew of Cab Calloway, Zutty Singleton, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others far less revered in the jazz pantheon.
The Judge's own point of view was humble, and his humility translated into a great foundation of support. He knew how to serve a tune, a soloist and an audience simultaneously. It is no accident that, while he was busy pumping jazz blood, he also helped bring the heady hit of artistic oxygen to artists in far less demanding genres than his primary one.
So even if some of my readers prefer pop to jazz, it's a good bet that Milt Hinton is striding around there somewhere in the background in their favorite music.
For some of The Judge's more than 35,000 photos of jazz greats, fans need only consult "Bass Line" and "Over Time" by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson (Pomegranate Artbooks, Box 808022, Petaluma, California 94975).
I'm sad he's gone, because Milt Hinton lighted my musical life long before I turned to jazz and, thus, provided me with an example of how open are the arms of our music.