Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


SCOTT, Jimmy

(b James Victor Scott, 17 July 1925, Cleveland OH; d 12 June 2014, Las Vegas) A passionate ballad singer. He had Kallman's syndrome, a hormonal disorder; he had a normal love life but could not have children, and his voice never changed: he had the sound of a boy alto. Less than five feet tall, he was first billed as Little Jimmy Scott; he unexpectedly grew eight inches in his 30s. One of ten children whose mother, a church pianist, was killed by a car when Jimmy was 13, he made his debut with contortionist Estelle 'Caldonia' Young's tent-show revue in the mid-1940s, then joined Lionel Hampton's band, where 'Everybody's Somebody's Fool' was a hit in 1950, but he didn't even get label credit. He recorded for Roost '50-2 but was never paid; some sides were issued on Coral; he left music but was recruited by Fred Mendelsohn to the Savoy label, where he became one of many artists to be treated like a slave by label boss Herman Lubinsky.

He had lost some innocence but matured as a lacerating interpreter, the '55-6 Savoy sides being a high point in his career, with first-rate jazzmen in the backing groups. He tried to escape Lubinsky, recording for King '57-8, but another stint at Savoy '58-60 was a low point, with cluttered arrangements. At his ravishing vocal peak he made a superb album Falling In Love Is Wonderful for Ray Charles's Tangerine label '62, arranged by Gerald Wilson and Marty Paich, with Charles on piano, but Lubinsky threatened to sue and the album soon disappeared. The Source '69 on Atlantic was followed by another, unreleased album and there was another (worthless) Savoy session; having booked himself into smokey dives for many years, Jimmy gave up.

But he returned to performing in the mid-'80s, encouraged by his wife Earlene. His fans inclcluded Ruth Brown, Doc Pomus, Quincy Jones (who'd played in that Hampton band), and actor Joe Pesci; the road was still rough, but he sang at Pomus's funeral, heard by record company exec Seymour Stein, leading to recording comeback triumph with All The Way '92 on Sire, quintet backing including Kenny Barron and David 'Fathead' Newman. Holding Back The Years '98 was a 'modern pop' album, including 'Jealous Guy', which he then sang in the soundtrack of Ethan Hawke's film Chelsea Walls 2001 (aka Last Word on Paradise, its working title), about bohos in the Chelsea Hotel, in which he also acted. An album Mood Indigo 2000 on Milestone included Hank Crawford and Cyrus Chestnut. He toured Japan regularly and sold out Birdland in August 2000.

Among his more than a dozen film/TV credits, usually in the soundtrack but sometimes acting as well, were two episodes of David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks, one of Vipers and one of Homocide: Life In The Street. There was a biographical documentary If You Only Knew 2002 which has been shown on PBS, and a biography by David Ritz, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott the same year.