October 9, 2015

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Concert pays tribute to Vicksburg jazz legend

Published 11:27 am Monday, June 30, 2014

The rich sounds of jazz resonated throughout the Vicksburg Auditorium Sunday night at the Fifth Annual Milton Hinton Memorial Jazz Concert. Thick strands of a gold and glittery backdrop illuminated London Branch and his fellow band members as they paid tribute to the late Milt Hinton by performing his melodious pieces for an enthusiastic crowd of about 50 people.

Hinton was born in Vicksburg in 1910 before moving to Chicago with his family as a child.  Nicknamed “The Judge,” he blossomed into one of the most famous jazz bassists in American history, becoming the most recorded jazz musician of all time before his death in 2000.

The event served as June’s installment of the Vicksburg Heritage League’s Heritage Music Series. Shirley Waring, president of the Heritage Club, said she is excited about the growth of the concert and how enthusiastically the community has embraced it.

“We’re just delighted that this is evolving to be a very successful event, and it evokes what’s important to our identity here in Vicksburg surrounding jazz and blues,” Waring said. “Our heritage is so significant.”

Branch led the musicians on stage and conjured up memories of Hilton with performances of songs once played by the jazz legend. Branch may be approaching 81, but his fingers slid along his bass with the grace and swiftness of someone who isn’t much concerned with age.

Along with performing, Branch serves on the Vicksburg Heritage League board of directors and is seeking to make jazz a staple of iconic Mississippi lore through tribute concerts such as the one Sunday night.

“I think one important thing is that it lets people know that Mississippi is important for more than the blues,” he said. “Milt Hinton, who became world-famous, he was probably the first African-American to get into all the television shows.”

Hinton played in both the Jackie Gleason and Dick Cavett Show orchestras and became the father of a type of bass playing called “slapping.”

Branch and his fellow musicians are using events like this to showcase the deep talent pool of jazz musicians who have come from the Magnolia State.

“It opens up another avenue of music. People know about Mississippi for the blues, but we have great musicians, great classical musicians who come from here,” Branch said. “This is just another way of adding to that legacy.”

Waring believes memorial concerts such as this are key to preserving the proud music tradition that is sometimes overshadowed by the blues.

“It’s so important, our musical heritage. The slogan for Mississippi is ‘Mississippi – Birthplace of America’s Music.’ We’ve got blues, jazz, gospel,” Waring said. “Those are all important to the bedrock of music here in America. People all over the world want to come here because we have such a legacy.”