Legendary jazz bassist Milt Hinton furnishes both sound and image for this joyous journeyman docu. A talented amateur photographer, Hinton chronicled 65 years of jazz greats as, at one time or another, he played with them all. Trio of filmmakers interweaves rich black-and-white archival performance footage, Hinton’s own evocative photographs, and short interview snippets with numerous jazz writers and artists including the genial Hinton himself, who died in 2000 at the age of 90 just before the film wrapped. Docu should play sweet on public or music-related TV and in ancillary music markets.
Hinton started in Chicago as a violinist with silent movie orchestras, moving to the bass after the advent of talkies. Hinton, who developed a distinctive slapping string style on bass, soon joined Cab Calloway’s band traveling countrywide with the flamboyant bandleader and snapping thousands of pictures. Some photos record the world-renowned band’s encounters with Southern hospitality, as the group is seen mockingly posing by “colored” drinking fountains or in front of segregated motels.
After the disbanding of the big bands, Hinton became one of the very few black musicians to break the color barrier and secure a job as a studio musician, thanks to a chance meeting with longtime friend Jackie Gleason who insisted Hinton join his TV orchestra. (One of the reasons there were so few black studio musicians was the racist belief that blacks could not read music.)
Arguably, pic’s most fascinating section concerns the craft of the studio musician, as expounded on by Quincy Jones, among others. The studio musician was required to come in cold and play any kind of gig, from a three-bar commercial jingle to a lush film score to a bluesy Gerry Mulligan arrangement. As it happens, Hinton was already famous in jazz circles for his variegated repertoire and ability to play in astonishingly diverse styles.
Images from Hinton’s archive testify to the vast range of performers with whom he played: candids of Harry Belafonte with his baby daughter, snapshots of a young, anxious Barbra Streisand, and contact sheets full of a broody Billie Holiday, whose final failed recording session Hinton recalls in detail, while on the soundtrack Holiday’s quavering voice cracks and skids.
A seemingly endless montage of album covers further attests to the fact that Hinton became one of the most recorded bassists of all time, while clips show him playing club dates after hours, jamming with the likes of Coleman Hawkins or Dizzy Gillespie (with whom he enjoyed a particular affinity).
Tech credits are fine and selection and editing of archival material are first-rate.