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 Monday, 30 November 2015
Jimmy Scott PDF Print
Written by Ronaldo Oregano   
Saturday, 01 October 2005
Image "... Here is the singer's singer if labels mean any thing. Listening to Jimmy is like having a performing heart. The experience of life and the art of expression sing through Jimmy and make us partners in his incredible passion. I love him and I never want to say goodbye. When the song stops with Jimmy's last note we're back in the world as it was. Not quite so pretty, not quite so passionate. And we can only wait for Jimmy to sing again and take us that little bit higher." -Lou Reed

The world is finally catching up to Jimmy Scott. After more than five decades of being admired by fellow vocalists and a select claque of hipsters, the man whom Joseph Hooper, in a New York Times Magazine profile, called "perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century" is finding a dedicated international audience for his unique, emotionally penetrating art.

The life story of Jimmy Scott is filled with heartbreak and hope, qualities he expresses most directly in his gripping, highly personalized readings of material from the Great American Songbook. He has been “rediscovered” decades after he disappeared from the public eye. Born in Cleveland in 1925, Jimmy Scott's early years were filled with devastating hardships. At age 12, he was diagnosed with Kallmann's Syndrome, a rare hormonal condition that kept his body—and his voice—from developing beyond boyhood. Seven months after the diagnosis, his beloved mother, the sole guardian of Scott and his nine siblings, was killed in a car accident. Her children were separated and sent to live in foster homes. "I fought through it," Scott says of the condition. "It didn't matter. I was accepted into show business back in the early Forties. That helped a lot, and it never bothered me like it might some others."

Scott was 14 when he first heard Judy Garland sing "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz. It "became a symbol of hope, an escape from misery, the promise of lasting love." "Pennies from Heaven" carries a similar meaning. "Just keep trying to make it some way," he explains. "Pennies will be there for you."

The freedom with which Scott's voice floats so effortlessly over rhythm sections has been likened to that of the legendary tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Scott recalls that "Don't Take Your Love from Me," which he performs on Over the Rainbow, was one of two tunes he sang the first time he sat in with Young, during the mid-1940s at a club in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

"Billie Holiday loved him, and I could dig why," Scott says of Young. "Listening to him helped me so much in the expression of singing. It was such a comfortable thing to have him play between your vocal lines and to have solos played by him."

Holiday, when once asked by a reporter which singers she liked, named only Scott. He returns the compliment by applying his distinctive style to one of her signature songs, "Strange Fruit," poet Lewis Allan's haunting tale of a lynching. Scott also reprises a couple of his own signature songs on Over the Rainbow: "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," the ballad that first brought him fame in 1950 as featured vocalist with the Lionel Hampton big band, and "When Did You Leave Heaven?," the old Bing Crosby favorite that Scott made all his own with a 1955 single that became something of a jukebox hit.

Scott's unique way with songs, which cuts to the emotional core of lyrics with its subtly delayed timing, carefully clipped syllables, and ringing sustains, has inspired numerous other singers for half a century. Nancy Wilson and Frankie Valli borrowed elements of Scott's style in the Sixties, while Lou Reed and Madonna have championed his singing in recent times. "He is without a doubt the master of the ballad form," Wilson once stated. Ray Charles, another Scott fan, has said that "he defined what 'soul' is all about in singing long before anyone was using the word."

The singer's big break came in 1949, when Lionel Hampton hired him on the recommendation of Paul Gayten and billed him as "Little Jimmy Scott." "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," recorded at Scott's second session with Hampton, gave the singer his first and only chart hit, placing at No. 6 on Billboard's list of R&B jukebox platters. The labels of some Decca 78s mistakenly credited Irma Curry, Hampton's female vocalist at the time, but many fans knew better, especially women, who swooned at Scott's every deliciously split syllable during his year on the road with Hampton.

Scott's hit and three other songs recorded with the Hampton orchestra, along with early Fifties solo sides for the Coral and Brunswick labels, were reissued in 1999 on the GRP CD Everybody's Somebody's Fool. Also released that year was the three-CD The Savoy Years and More containing his 1952 recordings for Roost Records and his 1955-75 output for Savoy. Scott also made a magnificent album for Ray Charles's Tangerine label and another for Atlantic, but Savoy threatened suit and had both suppressed.

The singer spent long periods away from the microphone. He worked for a time as a hotel shipping clerk and as a caretaker for his ailing father. Scott returned to performing in 1990, and his career took off again two years later when Seymour Stein heard him singing at songwriter Doc Pomus's funeral and signed him to the Warner Bros.-distributed Sire label. Scott recorded two albums for Sire, one for Warner Bros. proper, and one for Artists Only! before joining Milestone Records last year.

The past couple of years have seen Scott making triumphant tours of Europe and Japan, as well as being the subject of a Bravo Profiles television special in which he was saluted by such admirers as Alec Baldwin, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, David Lynch, Joe Pesci, Lou Reed, and Frankie Valli. And Scott has become a fashion model in an Italian advertising campaign for a new line of cashmere sweaters by celebrated Milan designer Saverio Palatella.

The wisdom that Jimmy Scott has acquired during his often-difficult life oozes from every track of Over the Rainbow. As David Ritz observes so eloquently in his booklet notes for the Milestone CD: "In the fragility of his voice, there is enormous strength. His songs say that we can live with our inconsistencies; we can be fools but still survive; we can still hope for those pennies from heaven. We look to him for lessons in how to live our lives with patience, dignity, and a sense of wondrous beauty."

Hear Jimmy Scott perform at the Dakota Jazz club in Minneapolis October 10th and 11th. The Dakota is located downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Ave Mall at 10th Street. Visit for more info.

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