Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott, the subject of the Independent Lens documentary (and 2004 IL Audience Award Winner) Jimmy Scott: If Only You Knew, passed away June 12 at the age of 88. Scott’s life and career was a real rollercoaster, which started with him singing in the 1940s with Lionel Hampton’s band, falling out of sight until the ’60s, and then finding newfound popularity once again in the ’90s, including singing the song “Sycamore Trees” for David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks.
There have been quite a few wonderful obituaries written since his passing, including from David Ritz in Rolling Stone, who wrote the biography Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott:
“I loved his style,” said Marvin Gaye, “as did all the early do-woppers like Harvey Fuqua and his Moonglows. Certain singers – take Johnnie Ray with his big hit ‘Cry’ – openly copied him. And then you have groups like the Four Seasons, led by Frankie Valli, who completely bought into the Jimmy Scott aesthetic. Frankie is a hardcore Scott disciple.”
Kallmann syndrome, a condition that halted Jimmy’s hormonal growth, left him with an alto voice that remained unchanged.
“Some thought he was a woman in drag,” said [jazz musician Dexter] Gordon. “He caught hell for being different – not just as a singer, but as a person on the planet. Yet I never saw him anything but positive, cheerful and ready to roll to the next gig with a smile on his face. Jimmy Scott was one brave motherf-r.”
At the conclusion of my 2002 biography, I wrote about his sense of time. “He can take his time, even control his time, by relinquishing control. He surrenders to the moment. Hearing him, we can do the same. His is an art based on the emotional truth that accompanies vulnerability. Such truth endures.”
Jimmy Scott sings a beautiful cover of a Talking Heads song: