Jazz singer Jimmy Scott turns 75 this month. He's enjoying a career resurgence after more than 30 years out of the spotlight. Scott's influence on everyone from Frankie Lymon to Frankie Valli to Nancy Wilson. Yolanda Perdomo of member station 90.3 WCPN in Cleveland reports his unique vocal style is also attracting new audiences.
YP- At the twilight of his career, singer Jimmy Scott beams with delight when talking about his concert tours in Europe and Asia. Scott's eyes sparkle when he says he's more than happy to be performing and to be admired after so many years.
JS- Age ain't nothing but a number, honey. If the Lord blesses you with the stability of mind, and you in turn want to give positive expression of that mind, God speed to you.
YP- Jimmy Scott's song with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" hit #6 on the charts back in 1950. His haunting voice carries with it a kind of deep melancholy emotion, where its easy to sense that he feels every word he sings. But Scott isn't a sad or imposing person. His 5 foot 8 inch frame is thin, gray streaks run along the side of his short wavy hair, covered by a silk cap. He has no facial hair, and his arms are long, forcing Scott to wear clothes that seem two sizes too big for him. Scott's physical and vocal traits are a result of Kallman's syndrome, a hereditary condition which never allowed him to reach puberty, and the changes that go along with it. He knew from a young age that he wanted to sing, and he took to performing in school plays and around town in revues with other local musicians, singers, and actors. While his mother encouraged him to sing and perform, she didn't live long enough to see his musical evolution. When Scott was teen, she was killed, hit by a car while crossing the street. Soon after, Scott and his nine other brothers and sisters were sent to foster homes because his father couldn't care for them.
JS- It interrupted because the city said 'take the kids away'. OK. So, I wound up in a foster home in Youngstown Ohio. But I was only in there a year or so because at the time I was 15. And I knew the school board would allow you to have a work permit at 16. When I came back to Cleveland, it was entirely up to me to support myself.
YP- The loss of his mother, up until then, his proudest supporter, made a profound impact on Scott, and to this day, singing one song still brings back those feelings of sorrow.
JP- Where do you find the understanding of life if you don't find it in your mother's eyes? Where you find it? Coming up as a child, the dependency on her decision. Where do you find it? So anything good you felt like it came from that mother. Whether it was me or anyone else. Yes, I felt it. Yes, it had a basic point in my whole life as a singer and all.
Chip Deffaa- It's very concentrated emotion. He's capable of moving people to tears who are not affected by things otherwise. I think at his best, it's coming from someplace very deep.
YP- Chip Deffaa is the author of Blue Rhythms: Six Lives In Rhythm And Blues. He dedicates a chapter to Scott. He says the emotion from Scott's singing comes at a price.
CD- And he was in his teens, looking younger than he was and so people treated him like a boy in every sense of the word. And blacks were generally treated poorly, often taken advantage of in show business. He looked so youthful and seemed so innocent and naive, and he wasn't, he didn't have an advanced education. There were business--he got badly taken advantage of. So did many other great artists of that era. It was almost endemic.
YP- One of those people was Savoy producer Herman Lubinsky, who not only held Scott to a questionable contract, but made it impossible for others who were interested in recording Scott.
CD- Ray Charles believed in Jimmy. He knew how great Jimmy was from the early years. He went to the expense of recording Jimmy properly. And then Lubinsky blocked him and said 'Jimmy is under contract to me, he's one of my artists'. So that album was blocked from coming out, even though that didn't particularly benefit Lubinsky.
YP- While musical interest in the 1950's turned to the phenomenon of rock and roll, Jimmy Scott was left without an opportunity to record and perform. He went through several marriages and took jobs as a janitor, file clerk, nursing home aid, bus boy, and waiter just to make ends meet. One person who knew of his talent and tried to make others take notice was producer and songwriter Doc Pomus, the author of such classics as "Save The Last Dance For Me", and "This Magic Moment". Again author Chip Deffaa:
CD- Doc Pomus had been trying to get Jimmy recorded on a big label, and he would talk him up to record executives and they said 'who is Jimmy Scott' and 'he is passe'. And when Doc Pomus died, big record executives went to his funeral, and Jimmy was asked in the will, or Doc Pomus had asked that Jimmy sing at his funeral, and blew some of these people away.
YP- And Jimmy Scott's musical tribute, accompanied by pianist Dr. John, was the Gershwin classic that got him signed on the spot by Sire records.
Since Pomus' funeral in 1991, Scott has released five records, not including the re-issues from other labels such as Savoy, which had his original recordings from the '50s and '60s. His newest record released last month, "Mood Indigo," is a showcase of jazz standards. Author Chip Deffaa:
CD- I think what Jimmy does is a little more of a specialized taste. He's not going to have that mass audience. It's also deeply personal, deeply honest, and for some people it may be too honest.
YP- And while his life has been filled with tragedies, Scott says the triumph is worth the sorrow.
JS- You get down, you get mad. I wanted to cuss some of them cats out. Yes, I felt that like anyone else, I learned one thing, and it prove to be a fact. One monkey don't stop no show. And if you dance long enough, somebody hear you tapping your toe.
YP- Scott has no plans to stop his show. This year, he received a proclamation from the Mayor of San Francisco proclaiming "Jimmy Scott Day'. He's expected to get one in Cleveland this Saturday when he performs at the Beachland Ballroom for his homecoming concert. He'll be in Japan on his 75th birthday on July 17th. Yolando Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN.