Sunday, May 14, 2006

At Last - Little Jimmy Scott Just Won't Quit

Man o Man

Little Jimmy Scott is in town here in San Francisco, and I really should be heading out the door dressed to the nines, dropping the big bucks and getting seated at the super staid & muy elegante Herbst Theater to check him out.

After all, how many more times will I get the chance to see this amazin lil' cat?

His magical & heart breaking interpretations of old torch songs, Broadway standards and even a smattering of choice modern rock tunes are a sight to behold...

I can barely handle the regret now, and I haven't even failed to show up yet...

I've had the great opportunity to have seen this unique legendary jazz singer up close & personal before, so it'll be a bit different to have to catch him in some nosebleed balcony seating. I sorta fear watching him, straining to huff & puff out the notes, now so undeniably past his prime, an antique relic of a much more stirring musical era forced to perform seated in a chair by his frailties. It all might be too much on my feeble conscience to enjoy. Especially if the old orphan plays "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" on a warm Mother's Day evening...

Unfortunately with tickets likely hovering in the just shy of astronomical price range, I may just have to pass. Maybe I'll see if any unlikely friendly yuppie's or high rollers are there unloading miracle tix, cuz other than that I can already just barely afford to eat & commute etc in the coming weeks before my next pay day...

But since when did lack of money & common sense ever stop me from doing what I want?

And since when was dealing with Jimmy Scott easy?

He's a master balladeer, infusing songs with so much pathos, pain and beautiful angst it's hard to take it all in...

Here's some Little Jimmy Scott info & tuneage for ya all to familiarize yerselves with his legacy...

Almost strangled to death by the umbilical cord at birth, he was soon orphaned along with 9 other siblings in depression era Cleveland, where the odds against Jimmy Scott were further stacked by a strange genetic pituitary hormonal defect known as "Kallman's Syndrome" which accounts for his somewhat effeminate looks & unnaturally high singing voice. Basically Scott's pubescent development was stunted, causing his arms to appear longer than the rest of his torso while the diminutive singer apparently has no facial hair.

Finding solace away from the foster homes on stage, he sang in combos of the post war R&B era, notably as a featured singer with band leader Lionel Hampton, with whom he made his recorded debut in 1950(although his name did not appear on the label). After the chart making stint with Hampton ended, Scott began dividing his time between spots in Cleveland, New York and Newark, New Jersey.

Scott tried his luck on a smattering of labels, working notably with producer Fred Mendelsohn in the early 50's. They got some interest going with a tune released on the Roost label called "I Won't Cry Anymore", it eventually became a big hit, but for another larger label, called Columbia, and the singer was a white guy bamed Tony Bennett. Other labels he flipped obscure sides for included Coral & Regal.

It is said that 50's singing sensation Johnny Ray, stole his stage act after seeing "crying" Jimmy Scott perform. Ray went on to great acclaim, while Scott ended up humbly opening for the crooner who grew famous imitating Jimmy's heartfelt & teary eyed performances, turning it into a shtick also later aped similarly by James Brown....

Jimmy was finally signed to a steady record deal when he was almost 30, and it was a sorta bunk one at that. Herman Lubinsky of Newark's Savoy Records offered Cleveland's finest androgynous balladeer a shot circa 1954. Lubinsky, whose label was a great repository of jazz & blues recordings, was also a notorious shyster. In David Ritz's 2002 bio of Jimmy Scott "Faith In Time", Seymour Stein of Sire Records recalls past colleagues at the time calling Savoy Records Newark HQ the "Slave Barracks". Savoy hooked Scott up with Charlie Parker, and although they recorded some well received sides, due to Lubinsky's malfeasance, Scott still went uncompensated. Scott went on to record more material for Savoy , but as time wore on, he grew discontent, started retreating into booze and left the label's fold by the beginning of the 1960's.

Here's a couple tracks from that Savoy era, his reading of Rodgers and Hart's My Romance dates from circa 1960, his last session for the label for at least 15 years.

Jimmy Scott -My Romance

Jimmy Scott - Very Truly Yours

These were posted recently at the always entertaining Tofuhut

Over the years the Lubinsky/Savoy contract would stifle Scott in numerous ways, particularly when he tried to break free and record for Ray Charles' Tangerine label in the early 1960's called "Falling In Love Is Wonderful" and another time with Atlantic in the late 1960's. Lubinsky would battle to have the records withdrawn, keeping Scott's music from ever hitting the streets en masse.

Here's a track from Scott's late 60's recording for Atlantic that Lubinsky stifled, insuring that the rare first pressing became one of the highest priced bootlegs in Jazz...

From 1969's attempt at a comeback LP "The Source" came this signature performance of "Day by Day", produced by Joel Dorn, and featuring backing from a hot group of players including David Fathead Newman on tenor sax, Eric Gale on guitar and Ron Carter on bass...

Jimmy Scott - Day By Day

Jimmy's numerous shots at stardom were so hampered by the fiscal mismanagement & bad business dealings, it lead to failed relationships, drinking and drugging, and a career ending downward spiral that took him away from the limelight.

His talent was never in doubt, but his successes were measured at best.

A favorite of performers ranging from Billie Holiday & Dinah Washington, to Frankie Lymon & Frankie Valli. Amongst his admirers include Stevie Wonder, Bill Cosby and John Lennon, all whom knew of and expressed respect of his work. Some more of Jimmy Scott's long list of fans and admirers have also included amongst them Red Foxx, Bill Clinton, Marvin Gaye, Ossie Davis and Amiri Baraka.

Said Quincy Jones once of the time he spent backing Jimmy,
'Night after night, I'd be sitting back there in the trumpet section, listening to this man cry his heart out. He'd just tear you up, you could sense Jimmy taking us all to an emotional level that was high and deep at the same time...Jimmy would tear my heart out every night with his soul-penetrating style"...

Even Madonna has said "Jimmy Scott is the only singer who makes me cry,"

Strangely enough, it appears death was actually the catalyst that brought Scott's career back to life...

By the late 70's and early 80's Scott was reduced to playing low rent bars and seedy nightclubs for pocket money. Eventually, some of his only gigs were occasional charity appearances at senior citizen homes. Scott's humble menial day jobs at Bob's Big Boy and in a Cleveland Sheraton hotel gave him a mindset that was set far from keeping abreast of the changing tastes of a fickle record buying public at the tail end of the 20th century.

In 1985, at age 60, he returned to the eastern seaboard, and for the first time in over a decade started working small clubs in New York and Harlem, perhaps getting occasional nostalgic write ups in the NY Times or Village Voice. Despite thin crowds at first, he kept at it, no matter how hopeless or slow going it seemed. Soon little bright spots would appear. Things like getting invited onstage by blues vet Ruth Brown or old friend Milt Jackson would liven up his schedule & sagging fortunes.

Scott's subsequent shift back into the public eye ironically began to truly gather momentum at The Riverside Funeral Home on St.Patrick's Day 1991. The sad/happy occasion was legendary rock n roll songwriter and old friend Doc Pomus' funeral. Pomus ( aka Jerome Felder ) was a remarkable songwriter, whose library of classic early rock & roll classics include "Save The Last Dance For Me", and "This Magic Moment".

Said Jimy f meeting Doc: "I met Doc Pomus when he came to see my show at the Baby Grand in Harlem around 1945 or '46. Doc showed me how to get around on the New York Subway system, then took me home to have dinner with his mother, father, and little brother, Raoul Felder (Raoul was so stuffy, snooty, and studious at the time; he later became one of the country's top celebrity lawyers)... bringing me home and having dinner with his family was my most cherished memory of Doc.
Doc Pomus
Ever since Jimmy had met Pomus back in the 40's, they had stayed in touch. In fact, in 1987 Doc even wrote a letter to trade publication Billboard extolling Scott's virtues, decrying the hard times he was going through, and warning the record industry not to sleep on a chance to catch the long overdue second coming of Little Jimmy Scott.

Now a few years later, Scott sat Shiva and was asked by Doc's family to perform "Someone To Watch Over Me" at the funeral, along with backing from fellow old timers Dr. John on piano and Fathead Newman on sax. Scott arrived early and sat unasumedly with hands folded in the back with his 4th wife Earlene. After the colorful eulogies, Jimmy's haunting voice overthe tinkling keys stunned the room, with many so far back they could barely see his tiny head over the crowd. The room was filled with dozens of music biz luminaries, like Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and the aforementioned Seymour Stein of Sire who felt it was almost his spiritual duty to Doc to simply offer Scott a dignified deal.

Jimmy later told a reporter in 2000 of the bittersweet good fortune coming from his friend's death, " The next day, this cat from Warners comes over with a contract. It was like Doc's hand reaching out from the grave."

He went on to many new career highights ranging from appearing on television shows & sold out shows across the US & Europe to even performing onstage at Bill Clinton's inaugural ball gala in DC. Said Scott in a 200 era interview of his new found glory, "...if you dance long enough, somebody hear you tapping your toe."

Still Scott copes with the fact that his type of fame is fleeting, and has duly noted this phenomena when he sang onstage in the 1990's with the Grateful Dead to a crowd of thousands in his hometown of Cleveland, the local daily paper referred to him as an "unknown female singer".

Since the quirky career kickstart given to Scott from Pomus' funeral, he has continued touring, recorded some 8 or so albums on half dozn labels, and added a 5th wife in 2003 to his bio as well. Now with his aged infirmities creeping in, ever dapper, Scott is performing while even restricted to moving around via wheelchair...

but dammit, he just won't quit...

Music is his life, once saying “I love performing. You live with reality every day. You can’t miss it. We can try to avoid a lot of trials in life, but it’s better to overcome than avoid. That’s what music has been for me. It’s been my opportunity to overcome.”

All Hail The Tough & Tender Little Jimmy Scott!

A song that became associated most notably with Etta James as redone here by Jimmy Scott in 1992 for his "All The Way" CD, the first record produced for Sire by Tommy LiPuma.

Jimmy Scott - At Last

In the wake of the Sire deal Scott soon had his music & likeness used by David Lynch for appearances in Twin Peaks...

Jimmy Scott - from Twin Peaks Sondtrack - Sycamore Trees

Here's Scott's reworking of a classic Curtis Mayfield composistion from his 1996 release "Heaven"

Jimmy Scott - People Get Ready

An Elvis Costello song from his 1999 release "Holding Back The Years"

Jimmy Scott - Almost Blue

There's a film bio of Scott, that I saw a little piece of once on Bravo, but have yet to fully check out. It's called "If Only You Knew", and definitely looks interesting if you get a chance...

For clips & more on this 81 year old diminutive teensy tenor singer , PBS has a video clip & discography of him at their website

and here's a brief 7 minute profile of Jimmy Scott with interview clips from a Oregon Public Broadcasting radio station regarding a PDX performance Scott made on New Year's Eve...
OPBJimmy Scott Biohere's an appropo quote from Little Jimmy Scott as we leave Mother's day behind...

My mother had the most impact on my life. Her love, teachings, the confidence she instilled in me, and her loss stayed with me throughout my life to today.

1 comment:

Dee Jay J.J. said...

"One of The Greatest Singers of ALL time."

Dee Jay J.J.
East Orange, NJ