Jimmy Scott performs at Miss Exotic World , Las Vegas in 2009.PHOTO BY MICHAEL ALBOV (flickr.com/mikegoat)
With the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival getting under way this week, it’s fitting to acknowledge one of the greatest jazz vocalists of the 20th century, Jimmy Scott. He was hardly a household name, but he should have been. Scott, who died last week at age 88, was small in physical stature, but is often credited with influencing music giants such as Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, and Nancy Wilson.
Scott’s distinctive voice — an almost androgynous, breathy sound — was believed to be the result of Kallmann syndrome, a health disorder that left him small and boyish-looking. Perhaps his biggest hit, “Everybody's Somebody’s Fool,” is a haunting, punch-in-the-gut piece that’s almost impossible to forget.
Scott’s career seems almost tailor-made for a music biopic. He started in the early 1950’s and performed with jazz legends such as Billie Holiday. But his career paused in the early ‘60’s, partly due to disputes over recording contracts, and some critics at the time thought his sound was too feminine. He appeared on some recordings with other jazz artists, but often wasn't credited. He continued to sing, but he earned his living through a series of low-paying jobs.
In the early 1990’s, Scott’s work was rediscovered and he appeared on a couple of film soundtracks. Film director David Lynch featured him on the TV show Twin Peaks, and a few albums followed.
Scott’s voice probably wasn’t for everyone. It was poetic and it took time to absorb what he was communicating. I’m especially fond of “Why Was I Born?” It’s a rather ironic question, since there will surely never be another Jimmy Scott.