Jimmy Scott: Across the Universe

Jimmy Scott: Across the Universe
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Study the material that you want to sing. Know what the story is in the material, so that you can portray it in your song
Listening to Little Jimmy Scott sing is different from listening to any other singer. His high-pitched voice carries more emotion than any instrument can reasonably bear, and seems to come from a special place deep within his heart. Yet that voice also seems to resound from a profound source far beyond any one man, a place where individuality no longer exists: The everlasting pulse of the universe. Jimmy Scott's voice soars in the heaven of romantic love, and burns in the hell of a broken heart. When he sings, his voice surrounds, from the inside and out.

Now 86, Scott has seen more ups and downs than an investment banker. Born into a large family in Cleveland, he saw his mother injured in a fatal car accident when he was just 13. He turned inward, to an intense and intimate relationship with singing, in response. In his early teenage years, Scott learned he had Kallmann's Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the hypothalamus and as a result kept him from going through puberty. His voice would remain high and elusive, a bird quivering and luxuriating in each song's lyrics and beat. In David Ritz's Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott (De Capo Press, 2002), Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown
1928 - 2006
vocalist
described the first time she saw Scott perform, in the mid-1940s: "Like all the clubs back then, the joint was packed with pimps and hookers, rough guys and tough gals, and every sort of criminal you could name. But when this child got to singing, tears ran down the cheeks of cold-blooded killers. The room was frozen with respect for a true artist.

"We'd already known we were witnessing the start of a genius generation," Brown continued. "Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
was flying; Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
was coming on; Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington
1924 - 1963
vocalist
was killing; soon Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
would be scaring every singer in sight. But this little man would hold his own among the giants. His soul scorched you clean. By exposing his emotional insides, he exposed yours."

Scott fluttered between the jazz scenes in Cleveland, Newark, New York, and elsewhere, and caught his first big break in 1948 when he was hired by Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
for Hampton's world-famous Orchestra featuring Illinois Jacquet
Illinois Jacquet
Illinois Jacquet
1922 - 2004
sax, tenor
, Johnny Griffin
Johnny Griffin
Johnny Griffin
1928 - 2008
sax, tenor
, and other jazz masters. Scott remained in royal jazz company for several years thereafter. One of his earliest recordings ("Embraceable You") features Charlie Parker in the ensemble, and, for a time, through the cousin of one of his wives, Scott was one of Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
's in-laws.

But even though Scott's balladry strongly influenced Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
1958 - 2009
vocalist
, Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
b.1937
vocalist
, and many other subsequent hit makers, the music business never seemed to figure Scott out, and vice versa. In 1952, he released the single "I Won't Cry Anymore," but Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
b.1926
vocalist
's subsequent version became the hit.

Thanks to legal machinations by Savoy Records owner Herman Lubinsky, who claimed to hold Scott's rights through some long-forgotten document, his two finest albums weren't released until years after they were recorded: 1962's Falling in Love is Wonderful (Rhino), with Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
as pianist and producer (for his own Tangerine Records), was eventually released forty years later; 1969's The Source, with a constellation of session aces (bassist Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
, saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman
David
David "Fathead" Newman
1933 - 2009
sax, tenor
, guitarists Billy Butler
Billy Butler
b.1925
and Eric Gale
Eric Gale
Eric Gale
1938 - 1994
guitar, electric
, and pianist Junior Mance
Junior Mance
Junior Mance
b.1928
piano
), produced by Joel Dorn for Atlantic Records, came out in two pieces in 1993 and 2002. Between 1975 and '92, except for a few recordings on his own vanity label, Scott was mostly silent.

He resurfaced almost inexplicably in 1992, with Carter and Newman once more on hand for All the Way (Sire). 1995's Dream (Warner Bros.) featured soloist Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
. Scott then teamed with bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a duet on The Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" for Lounge-a-Palooza (Hollywood Records, '97).

More recently, Scott and producer Todd Barkan launched a quartet of albums for Milestone Records: Mood Indigo (2000); Over the Rainbow (2001); But Beautiful (2002), which opens with a heart-stopping rendering of "You Don't Know What Love Is" arranged by pianist Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
b.1962
piano
and features "Please Send Me Someone to Love" by Scott's good friend Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield
1920 - 1984
vocalist
; and Moon Glow (2003). In total, these sessions—with pianist Cyrus Chestnut
Cyrus Chestnut
Cyrus Chestnut
b.1963
piano
, guitarist Joe Beck
Joe Beck
Joe Beck
1945 - 2008
guitar
, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
and others—returned Scott to the company of new jazz royalty generations removed from where he began.

Through it all, Jimmy Scott simply continues to bare his soul through his voice.

All About Jazz: You will be performing in the UK in October (2011). Where will you be performing and for how many shows? Who will be accompanying you?

Jimmy Scott: So far, I'll be performing at St. Stephens Hall in Hampstead for two concerts on October 15 and October 16 with my band, The Jazz Expressions, directed by Hilliard Greene
Hilliard Greene
Hilliard Greene
b.1958
bass
, my bassist, and featuring Alex Minasian
Alex Minasian
Alex Minasian
b.1984
piano
on piano, Dwayne Broadnax on drums, and T.K. Blue
T.K. Blue
T.K. Blue

saxophone
on alto saxophone and flute. That's the group.

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