The Blog

Jimmy Scott: An Odyssey

"Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;

For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take."

~ Heraclitus, William J. Cory.

My Granduncle died in the year of the Millennium. Memory becomes us in a variety of ways ; flashing images, misleading hallucinations, flickers, mirage, smatterings, glimpses, some things almost, sounds, a sense of things though without form nor shape, adjustments made. My memory fails to remember the actual event of my Granduncles death. Tommy, was his name. My Mother acquired his prodigious music collection, composed mostly almost all of it, of Classical, Jazz, and Blues records and tapes. A personal convenience, was my Mothers disregard to use it herself, enabling me to take ownership of the collection, not yet even a teenager. A sort of silly delight I indulged in because having any music collection at all was for me a glorious ownership. Cicero wrote this: "Open thine eyes - bright windows to the soul -". This modernized into the common phrase "The eyes are the windows of the soul". I think peoples collections are windows of the soul. A collection can tell you what sort of character a person has. A collection inherited, can be an education.

Memory - Sound, Glimpse: "The Golden Magic", a Jazz collection on tape, the very first tape I listened to, anxious to open up Tommy's world and the world of his time. An acidy cover, appearing as an arrogant celebration of the Saxophone.

The result of my immediate excitement of enjoying music from another time, an older time, though perhaps younger to the late collector, led me eventually to Chet Baker, and our prime subject here, Jimmy Scott, whom died last Thursday at the age of 88.

Memory here serves me valiantly. Scott's misty cover of Prince's majestic and anguished anthem, "Nothing Compares 2 U", was my initiation into my Odyssey of Jimmy Scott. On hearing, truth be told, I shed a tear. Scott's voice disarmed me. As did his recording of the song 'Exodus' on his album 'The Source'. Many words have been incuriously deployed to describe Scott's other-worldly voice, including: haunting, eerie, odd, feminine, peculiar, Grandmother-ish, and Boyish. Taking a trip to the drive-through of printed obituaries the past two days, one glooms at the shameless recycling journalists employ. Churnalism, indeed. I reject this practice. I found Scott's voice a bizarre comfort. Scott's music was a pillow on which to rest, a cave in which to shelter from that all too well-known storm, welcome shade from an indiscreet scorching brought by the Sun which watches over us all. Scott was one of the first voices I blanketed myself with for comfort. I cherished Scott because I had discovered him for myself. He was all mine.

Memory - Glimpse, Words, Images, Edges Gilded:

"And there, surrounded by streaming shadows, I rhymed

Aloud, and as if they were lyres, plucked the laces

Of my wounded shoes, one foot beneath my heart."

~ My Bohemia, Arthur Rimbaud.

That voice. That voice was so remarkable and outlandishly high-pitched. It being the way it was was partially because of a hereditary hormonal condition known as Kallmann Syndrome, which prevented Scott from succeeding through the regular process of puberty. Therefore, his voice was impervious to the regular alterations that are part of adolescence.

Of his own voice, Scott said: "In my adult life, people have looked at me as an oddity. I've been called a queer, a little girl, an old woman, a freak, and a fag. As a singer, I've been criticized for sounding feminine. They say I don't belong in any category, male or female, Pop or Jazz. But early on, I saw my suffering as my salvation."

Emerson said to be great is to be misunderstood.

Memory - Rhythm, Flicker, Sound:

"Things always seem to end before they start".

~ Hello It's Me, Lou Reed.

Scott was born in 'The Rock'n'Roll capital of the world', Cleveland, in 1925. A church choir, for whom his mother played piano, was alongside whom he sang in those early years. A collection, I said, can be an education, so can a choir. His story, wonderful yet jinxed, has upon it, a tragic impression. Attempting to save her daughter from an oncoming car while street-crossing, his Mother was struck and killed. Unable to maintain the family unit, his Father sent Jimmy and his other siblings to orphanages and foster homes. What followed a tad later, were nightclubs, tent shows, and bars, him performing.

The first hit for Scott, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", was credited on the label simply to 'Lional Hampton', vocal with Orchestra. How unfair. Following some timid success, a record label dispute prevented cruelly Scott from making an album in the 50's produced by Ray Charles. Savoy Records maintained they had exclusive lifetime contract with him and blocked the release of new records for nearly twenty years. How unfair. The seventies rarely witnessed Scott perform with his velvety, soaring voice, nor did any records conceive of the privilege of him having made them, between 1975 and 1989. Doc Pomus, the blues singer, requested of Scott a rendition of "Someone to watch over me" for his funeral. Among attendees of the event included Seymour Stein, an executive with Sire Records. Stein was stirred when bearing witness, roused listening. Under Sire, Scott released an album, 'All The Way', in 1992. A cult icon was born - reborn?

Rolecall of admirers - Flashing Images, Whispers, Smatterings:

Billie Holiday said he was her favourite singer. David Bowie shook his hand and posed for pictures, admiringly. David Lynch featured him in his television series 'Twin Peaks', singing the spooky 'Sycamore Trees'. Lou Reed said "he was like seeing Hamlet or Macbeth all rolled into a song". "His life", observed Quincy Jones, "parallels the best of American musical history". David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Flea, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Stipe, Frank Sinatra, Axel Rose, Antony Hegarty, Sting ; all fans.

From Kallmans Syndrome, to albums being prevented release, the smoking and drinking, the divorces, the genius, the irresponsive market, the unfairness, the struggle, the recognition he did get, there must inevitably have been times Scott felt like he was living a life of arrested development.

Whatever of the variety of memory in its forms, when reflecting any life lived that one admires, one in ways always sees their own life. Of the many trials, tragedies, joys, achievements, and failures of others, we see our own. The paradigm of life is inevitable. Its perpetual continuity out-performs our own lifetime. That continuous flow, that cycle - birth, maturation, old age, death - with the reproduction and survival of our species, Samsara as that Sanskrit word goes, will all go on. Part of what makes ones own duration worthwhile, is in appreciating the honesty and courage with which some other people have revealed their reality of experience of our world. Every word Jimmy Scott sang was given tenderness, justice, respect, nuance and colour, depth, fluidity. I connected. I am in debt. As I am also in debt to my Granduncle, Tommy, whom collected these relics that I inherited. My own experience of Jimmy Scott was an invaluable Odyssey. Although Scott's Odyssey has come to an end, mine continues.

Popular in the Community