Young lions and old tigers gathered in a musical tribute to the legendary bassist, photographer, teacher and jazz historian Milt Hinton. JVC Festival chief, George Wein, cited the “loyalty, integrity and talent” that identifies the man they call “The Judge.” Hinton — who turns 90 on June 23 — handpicked the musicians to play for his birthday fete as well as the tunes that reflected a career spanning 70 years, playing with the likes of Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.
A Basie echo opened the concert with “Lester Leaps In” as an all-star octet charged through the jazz milestone like the light brigade, making a warm-up tune an early concert highlight.
Dick Hyman’s confident and imaginative piano support and a tightly knit rhythm section composed of Joe Ascione’s driving drums, Howard Alden’s romping guitar and the boldly supportive bass of Christian McBride fed the beat to horns of Kenny Davern, Frank Wess, Byron Stripling and Warren Vache. Wess recalled the Lester Young tradition with an airy and flowing tenor sax statement.
Joe Bushkin, an octogenarian piano player who played with the giants of the ’30s and ’40s, noted that the bass player is the piano player’s best friend, and, with Jay Leonhart, sailed through “The Man I Love” and “Indian Summer” with the kind of swinging imagination and melodic grace that has long been the Bushkin trademark.
Leonhart — also known for his witty compositions — offered an amusing homage with an original patter song, “We Love You, Judge.” The piece expressed not only his own personal thanks for Hinton’s friendship and knowledge, but served as an appreciation from all the bassists who had the good fortune to study with the master.
Ron Carter’s unaccompanied bass solo on “Willow Weep for Me” turned out to be a studied example of the rich terrain of the instrument. Carter’s fertile imagination showcased a full bodied balance of slap, pizzicato and melodic structure.
A surprise encore was perhaps the most warming tribute to the Judge, as 19 Hinton students assembled onstage — among which were Leonhart and Carter — to play a big fiddle birthday salute.
Jon Faddis and tenorman Jimmy Heath took Dizzy’s “Groovin’ High” to wailing heights, and an all-star trumpet quartet featuring Vache, Stripling, Faddis and Randy Sandke turned Ellington’s “Cottontail” into a dazzling display of varied solo styles and a tasty little cutting contest.