Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jimmy Scott - I’ll Be Around

Saturday Song Selection: Special Edition

“Good-bye again,
And if you find a love like mine,
Just now and then,
Oh, drop a line to say you `re feeling fine” – Alec Wilder

In light of his recent passing and in recognition of a true interpretive artist, we revisit our “Saturday Song Selection” feature in deserving memory of Jimmy Scott.

His voice was unique - inimitable, yet many times imitated. His style was distinctive – often as slow as a Republican’s retort and as full of emotion as a winning Price is Right contestant. (As slow as midtown Manhattan crosstown traffic and as smooth as a Dr. Oz medicinal miracle pitch. As slow as a Tea Partier’s response to Final Jeopardy and as emotional as an eliminated World Cup team – pick the combination you prefer.)

Employing the fairly common technique of singing slightly behind the beat, Jimmy Scott could almost appear to be two tunes in arrears, transforming a quick ditty into an epic ballad. Had he attempted a lyrical rendition of The Minute Waltz, we might still be awaiting its conclusion today – yet, somehow, he made it work beautifully.  

To address the elephant in the blog, Mr. Scott’s undeniable feminine timbre, his unusually high contralto voice, he was born with a rare genetic condition, Kallmann's syndrome that prevented him from reaching puberty, also accounting for his slight stature.

Jimmy Scott first found fame with the Lionel Hampton Band in the 1940s, billed as Little Jimmy Scott, and while reaching some level of notoriety amongst jazz aficionados and fellow performers such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, widespread renown did not follow and by the 1960s he was toiling as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and hotel elevator operator.

But, perhaps it was inevitable that a natural gift like Jimmy Scott’s would attain an eventually, appreciative audience even if unfortunate decades had to pass. In 1991 the late Lou Reed, a distinctive talent himself, heard Jimmy sing at the funeral of legendary songwriter, Doc Pomus and with Reed’s influential urging and support, Scott’s late in life career renaissance began, rewarding him with the recognition that had previously proven so elusive.

And it was a beautiful, early 90’s day, not that long after the departure of Mr. Pomus, while idol in the idyllic setting of my beloved borough’s Central Park, that I was first introduced to Jimmy Scott’s voice, thanks to the good taste and good graces of jazz radio WBGO-FM.  Do you readers recall an ancient and long-forgotten enterprise known as a “record store?” Well, this was the pre-MP3 era when that archaic business was still flourishing, and so moved was I by this newly discovered artist that I headed post-haste to the Tower Records that once existed near the West Side of the park.  While prideful in my reasonably extensive knowledge of jazz and standard singers, this one was unrecognizable to me, sounding most in style and tone like Nancy Wilson, but not quite. The D.J. credited his playlist, I purchased the CD from whence the track came, and have been hooked ever since.

At this point, I’ve lost count of precisely how many times I’ve seen Jimmy Scott live and at which music establishments but notably, at one such performance, there sat famous fans Laurie Anderson and the essential and aforementioned, Lou Reed. And, as with all in attendance that evening, the gifted and prominent pair was enthralled and enraptured by the emotive ability on display.

Thanks, Lou. You are missed
Living in New York, if you take advantage of it, can be a truly amazing and wonderful thing – someone else’s vacation as your everyday - enjoying with great regularity that which countless others might only wish for, or may possibly get to fulfill on the rare journey or two. With this potpourri of possibilities and opportunities at hand I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy concerts by Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Liza Minnelli, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and at least twice that roster that currently slip my mind. If you’re an accomplished singer and we shared a lifetime (meaning, although legally qualified to be categorized as “old as the hills” I am still too short in the tooth to have experienced Judy Garland, Bobby Darin or Billie Holiday), chances are that I’ve procured a ticket or two for your musical presentation. And, out of this impressive and encompassing inventory, (even keeping in mind that to me Sinatra stands alone, as in, there’s Frank and then there’s everyone else) no one I’ve witnessed  intoned with as much open and honest emotion and raw feeling as Jimmy Scott.

As an employee of the entertainment industry and a resident of a metropolis where star spotting can sometimes be a daily activity, I rarely, if ever, inquire after autographs or pictures, and most New Yorkers follow suit. Leaving the luminary to his or her justified privacy is practically an unwritten law in the Big Apple, and a reason why celebrities can and do feel comfortable living here – my atypical exceptions, photographic evidence of a day spent working with Liza Minnelli and John Kander in Mr. Kander’s impressive and memorabilia filled digs, and the sought after signature of a true vocal genius, Jimmy Scott, as he ruminated alone at a nearby table following one of his memorable shows at the short-lived jazz venue once housed in the now demised Tavern on the Green.  And,  as one would hope, and even possibly expect, he was not only gracious, but sincerely appreciative to be asked.

The great Jimmy Scott’s performances made me smile, made me tear up and made me feel, and isn’t that what art should do?

James Victor “Jimmy” Scott
July 17, 1925 – June 12, 2014

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

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