“Newark lost a music legend Thursday…. Legendary jazz singer Jimmy Scott has died at the age of 88.
Born James Victor Scott in Cleveland, Ohio on July 17, 1925, the singer – also known as ‘Little’ Jimmy Scott – passed away Thursday (June 12) at aged 88. He died in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas, of cardiac arrest. “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.
Scott’s career spanned sixty-five years. Some of the early big bands Jimmy enjoyed were Count Basie’s Band, Erskine Hawkins, and Father Earl Hines, but Lester Young was his favorite tenor sax player. He joined Lionel Hampton’s Band in 1948, where he discovered the vibraphone and the strings, Jimmy said “it helped him to learn the beauty of the song and encouraged him to sing”. Lionel was a mentor to Jimmy and the one who tagged him with the stage name, “Little Jimmy Scott”, at the time he was 23, only 4’11”, thin, and very young looking. Jimmy said it was a gimmick for Lionel’s show, but it wasn’t too many years later that you started hearing more singers take their cue from Jimmy’s stage name and call themselves Little So & So.
Scott eventually left the Hampton band, settling into the thriving Newark, New Jersey, music scene and recording some sessions with Roost Records between 1950 and 1952 before signing with Savoy Records. At Savoy he was to cut memorable sides with producer Fred Mendelsohn—some of which are available on the first Savoy reissue, Little Jimmy Scott— but poor management crippled the singer with inferior material and cheap production while at the same time failing to effectively distribute the recordings or compensate Scott adequately for his work. McDonough noted in the Village Voice that though Scott had some modest hits, he never really fit the R&B market. Changing musical tastes even occasioned a 1958 rock and roll session, on which Scott perhaps fittingly sang, “I’ll be what I’m not, if that’s what you want.”
Scott’s difficulties in the industry where compounded by the abuse he suffered for the effeminate way he looked and sang, according to Robert Baird in Pulse! Ho-mophobes called him names and others thought he was a woman posing as a man. His association with such jazz greats as Charlie Parker—his vocal on Parker’s “One Night in Birdland” is credited to a woman—aroused rumors that he was a junkie. This made him a target for police in Philadelphia, who insisted that he was a woman transporting heroin and publicly stripped and humiliated him. Newark adopted Jimmy Scott as their own.
Jimmy Scott was a Newark superstar, as reported by David Ritz, in his biography entitled, Faith In Time: The Life Of Jimmy Scott. Mr. Ritz wrote, “He might not have been a National star, because after “Fools” he really had know National hits. But Little Jimmy Scott, set Newark a blazed. Here, He was a big fish in a small pond. He was a local Hero. They all came here to gig, said Jimmy- Billie Holliday, Al Hibbler, George Shearing, Buddy Johnson, Illinois Jacquet, Arthur Prysock, – you name them. But know one had the cachet of Little Jimmy. Little Jimmy was Newark’s secret weapon. On any given weekend, we could go, downtown and hear the best jazz singer in the country, bar none. The fact that it was little known outside the city him much more special to us.
The Newark scene, said Jimmy, “was an escape hatch for me. A place where I could go, gig, and feel like family. I look at Newark as a swingin small town. Earlene let me lay up at her place. I could relax in Newark. Stay months at a time. Harlem, Newark and Cleveland, I got by , even without a hit”.
After releasing several albums in the 1950s and early 1960s, Scott’s career faded, but he had a massive resurgence at the start of the 1990s. he received many awards following his 1985 – THE BLUE NOTE AWARD – For excellence in jazz idiom presented to “Little Jimmy Scott”, May 5, 1985
He sung on Lou Reed’s ‘Power and Glory – The Situation’ on 1992’s Magic and Loss, having performed ‘Sycamore Trees’ on the finale of Twin Peaks a year earlier.
The track was later included on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack album.
Scott performed ‘Why Was I Born’ at the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993, 40 years after singing the same song at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration 40 years earlier in 1953.
Also known as the ‘father of falsetto’ soul and jazz… an enormous artist… deeply influential on serious singers… celebrated all over the world… An artist of great dignity and enormous humility… He was 88.”