267

Jimmy Scott: Across the Universe

Jimmy Scott: Across the Universe
Chris M. Slawecki By

Sign in to view read count
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 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 was flying; Dizzy Gillespie was coming on; Dinah Washington was killing; soon Sarah Vaughan 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 for Hampton's world-famous Orchestra featuring Illinois Jacquet, Johnny Griffin, 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's in-laws.

But even though Scott's balladry strongly influenced Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Nancy Wilson, 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'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 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, saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, guitarists Billy Butler and Eric Gale, and pianist Junior Mance), 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. 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 and features "Please Send Me Someone to Love" by Scott's good friend Percy Mayfield; and Moon Glow (2003). In total, these sessions—with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Joe Beck, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis 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, my bassist, and featuring Alex Minasian on piano, Dwayne Broadnax on drums, and T.K. Blue on alto saxophone and flute. That's the group.

Shop

More Articles

Read Fred Anderson: On the Run Interviews Fred Anderson: On the Run
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 23, 2017
Read Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist Interviews Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer Interviews Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: April 19, 2017
Read Remembering Art Farmer Interviews Remembering Art Farmer
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 19, 2017
Read Nick Brignola: Between A Rock And The Jazz Place Interviews Nick Brignola: Between A Rock And The Jazz Place
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: April 16, 2017
Read "Nick Brignola: Big Horn, Strong Words" Interviews Nick Brignola: Big Horn, Strong Words
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: October 30, 2016
Read "Tony Monaco: Taking Jazz Organ to the Summit" Interviews Tony Monaco: Taking Jazz Organ to the Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: August 31, 2016
Read "Ethan Margolis: Perfect Mission of Feeling" Interviews Ethan Margolis: Perfect Mission of Feeling
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: September 6, 2016
Read "Jamil Sheriff: Helping shape a brave new jazz world" Interviews Jamil Sheriff: Helping shape a brave new jazz world
by Rokas Kucinskas
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Lewis Porter on John Coltrane" Interviews Lewis Porter on John Coltrane
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: September 23, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!