Jimmy Scott, a jazz singer whose distinctively plaintive delivery and unusually high-pitched voice earned him a loyal following and, late in life, a taste of bona fide stardom, died on Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 88.
The cause was cardiac arrest, his wife, Jeanie Scott, said.
Mr. Scott’s career finished on a high note, with steady work from the early 1990s on, as well as a Grammy nomination, glowing reviews and praise from well-known fellow performers like Madonna, who called him “the only singer who makes me cry.” But the first four decades of his career were checkered, with long periods of inactivity and more lows than highs.
After enjoying sporadic success in the 1950s, he had almost none in the 1960s. Albums he recorded for major labels in 1962 and 1969, which might have jump-started his career, were quickly withdrawn from the market when another company claimed to have him under contract. He virtually stopped performing in the 1970s and made no records between 1975 and 1990.
But if Mr. Scott spent most of his career in relative obscurity, he always had a core of fiercely devoted fans — among them many prominent vocalists who cited him as an influence, including Marvin Gaye, Frankie Valli and Nancy Wilson.
The fact that both men and women considered themselves Mr. Scott’s disciples is not surprising: because of a rare genetic condition called Kallmann syndrome, which caused his body to stop maturing before he reached puberty, Mr. Scott’s voice never changed, and he remained an eerie, androgynous alto his whole life.
Standing 4-foot-11, with a hairless face to match his boyish voice, he was originally billed as Little Jimmy Scott, and he was presented to audiences as a child until well into his 20s. In his mid-30s he unexpectedly grew eight inches taller and, although he otherwise remained physically unchanged, doctors told him an operation might stimulate his hormonal development. He decided against it.
“I was afraid of entering uncharted territory,” Mr. Scott told David Ritz, the author of “Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott” (2002). “Besides, fooling with my hormones might mean changing my voice. Whatever the problems that came with the deficiency, my voice was the one thing I could count on.”
Mr. Scott’s condition left him incapable of reproduction.
James Victor Scott was born on July 17, 1925, in Cleveland. The third of 10 children, he lived in orphanages and foster homes after his mother was killed in a car accident when he was 13. After singing in local nightclubs for a few years, he went on the road in 1945 with a vaudeville-style show headed by Estella Young, a dancer and contortionist. He moved to New York City in 1947 and joined Lionel Hampton’s band a year later.
His 1950 recording of “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” with Hampton set the pattern for his later work. A mournful ballad of love gone wrong, the song was delivered with feverish intensity and idiosyncratic, behind-the-beat phrasing. The record was a hit, but because it was credited on the label simply to “Lionel Hampton, vocal with orchestra,” few people knew that Mr. Scott was the singer.
Recordings later in the decade for the Roost and Savoy labels helped establish his name. But with a style somewhere between jazz and rhythm and blues and a voice somewhere between male and female, he found it difficult to gain a foothold in the marketplace.
The vagaries of the record business did not help. An album he recorded for Ray Charles’s Tangerine label in 1962, featuring Charles on piano and a string section, garnered radio play and, with national distribution from ABC Records, seemed likely to expand his audience. But Herman Lubinsky, the owner of Savoy Records, threatened legal action to block its release, claiming he still had Mr. Scott under contract. A similar fate befell “The Source,” an album Mr. Scott made for Atlantic seven years later.
By then, a frustrated Mr. Scott had moved back to Cleveland, where he held a variety of nonmusical jobs, including cook, hotel clerk and nurse’s aide, for the better part of two decades, although he continued to perform occasionally and even recorded an album for Savoy in 1975.
“When the gig ain’t there, you still got to pay the rent,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 2000. “I learned that a long time ago.”
In 1984, encouraged by the woman who would soon become his fourth wife, Mr. Scott moved east and began to get nightclub bookings in Newark and New York City. He released a self-produced album in 1990. But despite his renewed commitment to music, his profile remained low until 1991, when he was signed to Sire Records, a rock-oriented Warner Brothers subsidiary, on the strength of his performance of “Someone to Watch Over Me” at the funeral of the songwriter Doc Pomus, an old friend.
On his first Sire album, “All the Way,” he sang classic love songs by the likes of Porter and Gershwin, accompanied by first-rank jazz musicians. The album garnered strong reviews, sold well and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
After that, Mr. Scott never wanted for work. He sang at one of President Bill Clinton’s inaugural balls in 1993. He became a popular concert attraction in Europe and Japan. He sang on the soundtrack of “Philadelphia” and other movies and acted in the independent film “Chelsea Walls” in 2001. He also appeared in an episode of the cult television series “Twin Peaks.”
Mr. Scott continued to record into the 21st century, notably for the Milestone label, and to perform. His last appearance was in June 2012 at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village. In 2007, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and a Living Jazz Legend by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
Mr. Scott married Jeanie McCarthy, his fifth wife, in 2003. Besides her, he is survived by a son, Tracy Porter; three sisters, Nadine Walker, Betsy Jones and Elsa Scott; and a brother, Roger Scott.
Finding himself in demand a half-century after he first sang in front of an audience, Mr. Scott was grateful but philosophical.
“I appreciate the fact that these things are finally happening for me,” he told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland in 1997, “but I wish they could have happened earlier in my career so I could have enjoyed the retiring years much better.” Still, he conceded, “in show business, generally you don’t retire. If you love it, that is, you’re in it forever anyway.”
James Victor "Jimmy" Scott (July 17, 1925 – June 12, 2014), also known as "Little" Jimmy Scott, was an American jazz vocalist famous for his unusually high contralto voice, which was due to Kallmann's syndrome, a very rare genetic condition. The condition stunted his growth at four feet eleven inches until, at the age of 37, he grew another 8 inches to the height of five feet seven inches. The condition prevented him from reaching puberty, leaving him with a high, undeveloped voice.
Early life and career
Scott was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Authur and Justine Stanard Scott, the third in a family of ten. As a child Jimmy got his first singing experience by his mother's side at the family piano, and later, in church choir. At thirteen, he was orphaned when his mother was killed by a drunk driver.
He first rose to prominence as "Little Jimmy Scott" in the Lionel Hampton Band when he sang lead on the late 1940s hit "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", recorded in December 1949, and which became a top ten R&B hit in 1950.Credit on the label, however, went to "Lionel Hampton and vocalists", so the singer's name did not appear on any of the songs. This omission of credit was not only a slight to Scott's talent but a big blow to his career. A similar professional insult occurred several years later when his vocal on "Embraceable You" with Charlie Parker, on the album One Night in Birdland, was credited to female vocalist Chubby Newsome.
Lionel Hampton gave him the stage name of "Little Jimmy Scott" because he looked so young, and was short and of slight build. However, it was his extraordinary phrasing and romantic feeling that made him a favorite singer of fellow artists such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson.
In 1963, it looked as though Scott's luck had changed: he signed to Ray Charles' Tangerine Records label, under the supervision of Charles himself, creating what is considered by many to be one of the great jazz vocal albums of all time, Falling in Love is Wonderful.
Owing to obligations on an earlier contract that Scott had signed with Herman Lubinsky, the record was withdrawn in a matter of days, while Scott was on honeymoon. The album was not re-released for forty years. Scott disputes the "lifetime" contract; Lubinsky loaned Jimmy out to Syd Nathan at King Records for 45 recordings in 1957–58. Another album, The Source (1969), was not released until 2001.
Scott's career faded by the late 1960s and he returned to his native Cleveland to work as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and as an elevator operator in a hotel.
Comeback and later work
Scott eventually resurfaced in 1991 when he sang at the funeral of his long-time friend Doc Pomus, an event that single-handedly sparked his career renaissance.Afterwards Lou Reed recruited him to sing back-up on the track "Power and Glory" from his 1992 album Magic and Loss, which was inspired, to an extent, by Pomus's death. Scott was seen on the series finale of David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks, singing "Sycamore Trees", a song with lyrics by Lynch and music by Angelo Badalamenti. Scott was featured on the soundtrack of the follow-up film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
Also in attendance at Pomus's funeral was Seymour Stein, founder and operator of Sire Records, who released Scott's 1992 album All The Way, produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring artists such as Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and David "Fathead" Newman. Scott was nominated for a Grammy Award for this album.
He followed this up with the album Dream in 1994 and the jazz-gospel album Heaven in 1996. His next work, a critically acclaimed album of pop and rock interpretations entitled Holding Back The Years (1998), was produced by Gerry McCarthy and Dale Ashley. Released in the US on Artists Only Records in October 1998, it peaked at #14 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. In Japan, it won the prestigious Swing Journal Award for Best Jazz Album Of The Year (2000). The title track marked the first time in his career that Scott overdubbed his own harmony vocal tracks. Holding Back The Years features cover art by Mark Kostabi, liner notes by Lou Reed, and includes critically acclaimed versions of "Nothing Compares 2 U" (written by Prince), "Jealous Guy" (John Lennon), "Almost Blue" (Elvis Costello) and "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" (Elton John & Bernie Taupin).
In 1999, Scott's early recordings on the Decca label were re-released on CD, as were all of his recordings with the Savoy Label between 1952 and 1975 in a three-disc box set. In 2000, Scott signed to the Milestone jazz label, and recorded four critically acclaimed albums, each produced by Todd Barkan, and featuring a variety of jazz artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Renee Rosnes, Bob Kindred, Eric Alexander, Lew Soloff, George Mraz, Lewis Nash, as well as Jimmy's own touring and recording band "The Jazz Expressions". He also released two live albums, both recorded in Japan, featuring the Jazz Expressions.
In 2012, he joined the 11th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.
He died on June 12, 2014, aged 88. He died in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas, of cardiac arrest.
Scott's career spanned sixty-five years. He performed with Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Quincy Jones, Bud Powell, Ray Charles, Wynton Marsalis, and Peter Cincotti. He also performed with a host of musicians from other genres of music, such as David Byrne,Lou Reed, Flea, Michael Stipe, and Antony & The Johnsons.
Scott performed at President Dwight Eisenhower's (1953) and President Bill Clinton's (1993) inaugurations, where he sang the same song, "Why Was I Born?". Later, Scott appeared in live performances with Pink Martini, and continued to perform internationally at music festivals and at his own concerts until shortly before his death.
In 2007, Scott received the 2007 NEA Jazz Master Award. He also received the Kennedy Center's "Jazz In Our Time" Living Legend Award, and N.A.B.O.B.'s Pioneer Award in 2007, the "Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America" in 2010, the R & B Hall of Fame Induction Award in 2013. In September 2008 he did a "two-day video interview" at his Vegas home with the "Smithsonian Institute for the National Archives". Scott and his wife Jeanie lived in Las Vegas, Nevadaafter 2007, having previously living in Euclid, Ohio, for 10 years.
Little Jimmy Scott's "If I Ever Lost You" can be heard in the opening credits of the HBO movie Lackawanna Blues. He was also mentioned on The Cosby Show, when Clair and Cliff Huxtable bet on the year in which "An Evening In Paradise" was recorded. On August 17, 2013, at Cleveland State University in his hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, he was inducted into inaugural class of the R&B Music Hall of Fame.
- Very Truly Yours (Savoy) (1955)
- If You Only Knew (Savoy) (1956)
- The Fabulous Songs Of Jimmy Scott (Savoy) 1960)
- Falling In Love Is Wonderful (Tangerine) (1963) (Re-issue 2003)
- The Source (Atlantic) (1969) (Re-issue 2001)
- Can't We Begin Again (Savoy) (1975)
- Doesn't Love Mean More (J's Way) (1990)
- Live In New Orleans (1951 Concert) (Fantasy) (1991)
- All The Way (Sire) (1992)
- Dream (Sire) (1994)
- Heaven (Sire) (1996)
- Holding Back The Years (Artists Only) (1998)
- Mood Indigo (Milestone) (2000)
- Over The Rainbow (Milestone) (2001)
- Unchained Melody (Live Album) (Tokuma) (2001)
- But Beautiful (Milestone) (2002)
- Moonglow (Milestone) (2003)
- All Of Me: Live In Tokyo (Venus) (2004)
- Lost And Found (Rhino) (1993)
- Bravo Profiles: A Jazz Master (Bravo) (1993)
- All Over Again (Savoy Jazz) (1995)
- Everybody's Somebody's Fool (Universal) (1999)
- The Savoy Years & More (Box Set) (Savoy Jazz) (1999)
- Les Incontournables (Warner) (2000)
- Timeless (Savoy Jazz) (2002)
- Someone To Watch Over Me (2-Disc) (Warner) (2004)
- The Essential Jimmy Scott (Metro) (2005)
- Milestone Profiles: Jimmy Scott (Milestone) (2006)
- SOUL! (PBS - TV) (June 1971)
- The Ballad of Little Jimmy Scott (DVD) (1987)
- Twin Peaks – "Episode 29" (TV)(1991)
- Scotch & Milk (1998)
- Bravo: Profiles "Jazz Masters" Why Was I Born - The Life and Times of Little Jimmy Scott (TV) (1999)
- Chelsea Walls (2002)
- Stormy Weather: The Music of Harold Arlen (2002) (TV)
- Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (DVD) (PBS - TV) (2003)
- I Love Your Work (2005)
- Be Kind, Rewind (2005)
- Passion Play (2011)