When Milt Hinton's Bass Line was published in 1988, I considered it to be the finest jazz book combining personal narrative and photographs that I had ever read. The book, which resulted from efforts by David Berger and Holly Maxon to organize Hinton's massive collection of photographs, not only offered exceptional images of the jazz world by one of its top musical and photographic purveyors, but it also captured Hinton's gift as a world-class storyteller.
I loved the book because I could hear the great bassist's voice on every page as I read about his early enchantment with music, his life on the road, his problems as an African-American dealing with Jim Crow laws, his anecdotes about jazz artists of the past and present, and his musings about music. It was a personal history of jazz recalled by a supremely talented but modest man who lived through its best and worst moments and emerged as one of the best loved and most respected jazz musicians of all time.
The recently published Playing the Changes does more than simply repackage Hinton's previous book as a collector's edition -- it improves upon the perfection of Bass Line. More than 140 photographs have been added to the evocative photos included in the first book and in Hinton's follow-up book of photographs, OverTime. The narrative, which tells the rest of Hinton's story, from 1989 until 2000 when he died, is just as compelling as in his previous book.
As a journalist, I find this book to be a bit like biting into a succulent pear -- so juicy that it satisfies on every level. The photographs are strong from a compositional standpoint; they are thrilling as historical studies; they are well documented, and they offer an intimate look into a world that only musicians truly know. An enclosed CD brings Hinton back to life vocally and musically, and the index, list of photographic credits, selected discography, selected filmography and selected bibliography are impeccably presented. This is a book I could happily read and reread, never tiring of the content.
Berger and Maxon deserve major plaudits for their tender, comprehensive treatment of Hinton's photographic and musical legacy. Highly recommended. Check www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com for further information.