There is no other voice in Jazz like Jimmy Scott’s Voice...
The Eighteenth Century saw the zenith of a subset of opera singers known collectively as the castrati
. These singers, eunuchs relieved of their primary sexual characteristics between the ages of 7 and 10 years, had voices full, with high range and perfect timbre. Technically, the normal male voice deepens during puberty under the pressure of increasing secretion of the male sex hormone testosterone, or more probably its biological byproduct dihydrotestosterone. The male vocal cords increase 70% in length during this time, where the female vocal cords increase by only 34%. Testosterone initially produces swelling of the vocal cords, followed by a permanent thickening due to the accumulation of collagen. These changes contribute further to the lowering of vocal pitch.
Removal of testosterone causes absence of male-type growth of the larynx or voice box. In the only recorded autopsy of a castrato, the size of the larynx was conspicuously small, with vocal cords the length of a female high soprano. However, in a castrato overall body growth continues unhindered, resulting in a voice very different from that of the prepubescent boy. While the pitch may have been similar to that of a female, the timbre of the voice was different. A leading Eighteenth Century opera critic Charles de Brosses described the castrato sound as being "as clear and penetrating as that of choirboys but a great deal louder with something dry and sour about it yet brilliant, light, full of impact."
What does this have to do with Jazz Vocalist Jimmy Scott? Mr. Scott was born with a familial condition commonly known as Kallman’s Syndrome. This is a heredity condition that not only affects Mr. Scott but also his brother and several maternal uncles. In this condition, the cells of the hypothalamus gland responsible for making and secreting the hormones necessary to stimulate the release of the sex related hormones—testosterone in the male or estrogen in the female, fail to develop. This results in the afflicted never fully developing to sexual maturity. In essence, those who have Kallman’s Syndrome are natural castrati
The result in Mr. Scott’s case is his perfect, beautiful voice. Pristine, crystalline, faultless are all adjectives that fairly describe this unique voice. Born in Cleveland, OH in 1925, Jimmy Scott received musical training for an early age and was invited to sing with Lionel Hampton’s band in the late 1940s. He recorded several well-received sides for Savoy in the 1950s. In 1962, when he thought his contract was completed, Mr. Scott went to Ray Charles’ Tangerine label and recorded the famous Falling In Love Is Wonderful
. Shortly before the album’s release, Scott’s previous label sued Tangerine claiming that Scott remained under contract to Savoy. It would be 40 years before Falling In Love Is Wonderful
would again be legally heard.
Rhino Record’s specialty label Rhino Hand Made has recently released Falling In Love Is Wonderful
to a welcoming jazz public. The recording sports the arrangements of Marty Paich and Gerald Wilson and the piano playing of Ray Charles. It is a collection of love songs—ballads so sincerely emoted in such a perfect voice that one would think the songs were written for Jimmy Scott. "There Is No Greater Love," "I’m Getting Sentimental Over You," and "Someone To Watch Over Me" are all rendered with careful affection and respect. This is a voice and music of another time. Densely romantic and heartbreakingly open, Jimmy Scott and his exquisite voice should be declared a national treasure.
In 1992, interest in Mr. Scott began to pique with the Sire release of All the Way
. Since then, Mr. Scott has continued to record critically acclaimed discs, his most recent being 2002’s But Beautiful
(Milestone MCD-9321-2). His voice sports the maturity of his 77 years and the sweetness of his life.
Read Don Williamson’s 2000 Interview
with Jimmy Scott.
Personnel: Jimmy Scott: vocals.