Press release from Vanderbilt University Press

PLAYING THE CHANGES:Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs
By Milt Hinton, David G. Berger, and Holly Maxson
Foreword by Clint Eastwood; Preface by Dan Morgenstern

384 pages, 11 x 9.5 inches, 260 black & white photos,
with a CD of interviews and music, discography, filmography,
(ISBN 978-0-8265-1574-2)


The life story of Milt Hinton is rooted in hard times, rising from segregated backwater clubs to elegant concert halls, offering a perspective on the African American experience that is unique in its mix of humor and wisdom.

The publication of PLAYING THE CHANGES: Milt Hinton’s Life in Stories and Photographs (Vanderbilt University Press, January 2008) not only tells Milt’s compelling story, in his own inimitable style, but also exquisitely reproduces 260 of his incredible photographs. He began taking pictures in the 1920s and continued documenting the world that he knew, in and away from the spotlight, up to his death in 2000 at age 90.

 These photographs, more than 140 of which are published here for the first time, burst with life--and some would swear sound--revealing candid and often intimate moments of both the famous (Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington) and the not so famous who played alongside them, such as 400-pound arranger/bandleader/organist “Tiny” Parham.

Included with the book is a CD of music and interviews with Milt Hinton, along with a discography and a filmography.

This remarkable book reveals as well that Hinton possessed a gift of narrative. Blessed with a storyteller’s facility, he leads the reader back to his first memories as a child in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and even beyond, to his father’s African birth and elements of that legacy that lingered in his grandmother’s cooking. Through his recollections we feel these times and places, down to the lynching he witnessed at age seven and, nearly as horrible, the surreal stillness of the town the morning after.

Interweaving photos and prose, the book traces Milt’s path from Mississippi to Chicago, where he polished his music through the famous Wendell Phillips High School program and earned money running errands for the Al Capone organization. Committing full time to music, Hinton crossed paths with people who seem cut from a mold that was broken long ago. Many have left vivid marks on history, from the legendary boxer Jack Johnson to the incomparable Cab Calloway, with whose band Hinton traveled for many years. Others have been forgotten or died too young, like the tough-talking and brilliantly gifted singer Ann Robinson, whose rise toward fame ended suddenly one night in a Harlem alley.

Combining an acute observational eye with an ear sensitive to music and conversation, Hinton casts these characters in revealing light. He was there to witness a legendary and nearly fatal encounter between Calloway and a knife-wielding Dizzy Gillespie, to help remove the great Charlie Parker, passed out on heroin, from under a table in a bar, and to see the King of Swing, Benny Goodman, playing pinball alone in a Broadway arcade. Whether huddling in the basement of a backwater club as a race riot raged overhead or shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy at a swank soiree, Hinton registers these moments and summons them back to life on every page of Playing the Changes--and in so doing, preserves an important part of America’s culture and history for posterity.

Playing the Changes

Radio interview with David G. Berger
about the book"Playing the Changes"
Weekend Edition, NPR- Liane Hansen,
May 4, 2008

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