Some singers had managers who were interested in helping them develop their career. I just happened to get with some people who were interested in money instead of developing the creativity of a career.
All About Jazz: You've been out of the country recently?
Jimmy Scott: Yes, I was in France and Italy. I was there with my regular group. Hilliard Greene is on bass, Michael Keenan is on piano, and Victor Jones is on drums. Hilliard has been with me for twelve years, and the other two have been with me for at least four years. I organized a band in '85, and Hilliard was with me then.
AAJ: Was the restart of your career in '84?
JS: Yes. I was in Cleveland, and I was intending to go back to New York. I married a young lady friend, and we lived in New Jersey for a while. I got myself together, organized the band and started working again.
AAJ: Had you returned to Cleveland to take care of your father?
JS: Around 1976, I moved back. In '77 and '78, he began to have strokes. The last one crippled him.
AAJ: Did you take care of him?
JS: Yes, myself and my sisters and brothers. Six or seven of us lived in Cleveland then. Since I was the only one who didn't have an ordinary day job, I spent a lot of time with him. My brothers and sisters had children and their regular day gigs. I did work at the Cleveland Sheraton in Shipping & Receiving.
AAJ: Did you sing on weekends?
JS: Oh, yes. I ran back and forth to New York and Philadelphia.
AAJ: Did you sing in Cleveland too?
JS: Not that much. There wasn't that much happening here at the time. Earlier, in the '50's, everything was swinging. In the mid-'50's, the trend changed. Until then, Cleveland was a jazz area.
AAJ: Was your mother still alive when you returned to take care of your father?
JS: Oh, no. My mother passed when I was thirteen in 1939. It was a terrible loss. She was supportive with all of the kids. My father was there, but he wasn't the kind of father who hung at home. He would be in the streets playing pool and different things.
AAJ: What type of work did you father do?
JS: He worked for several of the local asphalt contractors. He helped build some of the area roads and parking lots, and he worked on driveways when it became popular to pave them.
AAJ: You were born in 1925?
AAJ: July 17.
JS: That's right.
AAJ: The only reason I ask is that it's amazing how often the wrong birthdates are documented in reference books.
JS: Well, one time my birthdate was all twisted around. They had twenty-five as my birthdate. Actually, it was 7/17/25.
AAJ: Your mother made sure you had a religious upbringing.
JS: Of course. She kept us close to the church. We had a strong bond.
AAJ: And she played piano.
JS: Yes. She was quite a talented young lady. She was also a seamstress. Her loss, of course, put the family in chaos. We never recouped the family atmosphere, and that's the sad part. She was in her thirties when she died.
AAJ: What did she die of?
JS: She was hit by a car in Cleveland. She was taking my sisters to school. On the way, my sister stepped in the street, and my mother reached to grab her because the car was coming so close.
AAJ: Was your sister hurt?
JS: No, my sister wasn't hurt at all. But my mother reached out to push her back from the curb. When she reached out, the car caught her by the arm and tore her arm off. It was tragic. The worst part was that we loved her so much. The other kids were so young, and her death took its toll on the family.
AAJ: Are you the oldest?
JS: I'm the third oldest.
AAJ: What happened after she died?
JS: Well, we all went into foster homes. I lived in one of them because I was thirteen at the time. I stayed in the foster home for three years. By getting a work permit, I was able to leave school early and support myself. Also, through my interest in music, I developed singing locally. I got a pretty good following in the clubs at that time. The older entertainers used to sneak me in to the clubs.
AAJ: You met Estelle Young at that time.
JS: Yes. She was a wonderful person, who was another great loss in my life. I credit everything I know about show business today to her.
AAJ: What happened to her?
JS: She died of old age. I was on the road when she died in a nursing home here. A friend of mine who also worked with her sent me the papers about her death. A lot of artists had the opportunity to learn about show business with her.
AAJ: Are there any artists whose names we would recognize?
JS: Well, Eli Adams for onea young man who played tenor saxophone on the road with us. A baritone singer in Cleveland named Jimmy Reed was another one. Then a few of the ladies called "shake dancers" were in the show. That's where I met Ruth Brown; she worked with us too.
AAJ: Estelle's nickname was "Caldonia."
JS: Louis Jordan used to make those "nickelodeons." If you went into a club, a machine would play the movies of Louis singing each of his songs like Friday Night Fish Fry or Caldonia. He had worked with Estelle Young on a double bill, and he named her "Caldonia" after his song. In Estelle's day of entertaining, she was a contortion dancer. It involved more body forms than a shake dancer. She did body poses and the splits. Also, she did a little comedy.
The world of jazz is a musical space with a complex history and haunting appeal--a space to revisit and celebrate. It’s that
amazing moment when you hear a really great song you haven't heard in years and you still know the tune and every word.