Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in July of 1925, James Victor Scott was an American jazz vocalist known for his sensitivity on ballads and for his high countertenor voice. The high range of his singing voice was due to a rare genetic disease, the Kallmann syndrome, which prevented him from reaching classic puberty and limited his physical height.
Given the nickname of “Little Jimmy Scott” by jazz musician and band leader Lionel Hampton, Scott achieved prominence as the lead singer in Hampton’s band when he recorded “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” in December of 1949. This song became a top rhythm and blues hit in 1959. Scott sang the vocals on Charlie Parker’s adaption of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” in 1947; however, his vocals was credited to the female vocalist Chubby Newsom on the album.
Jimmy Scott signed in 1963 with Tangerine Records, a record label owned by Ray Charles and distributed by ABC-Paramount Records. Under that label, he recorded the album “Falling in Love is Wonderful”, with Ray Charles interplaying on the piano. This ranks as one of the best works of Scott’s career, showing his range of emotions and his hitting all the notes with perfection on such classics as “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”.
By the late 1960s, Jimmy Scott’s career had faded; he returned to his native Cleveland and worked in several menial labor positions. It wasn’t until 1989 that he returned to music, sharing a late-night billing with singer and pianist Johnnie Ray at the famed New York’s Ballroom. Singing at the funeral of his friend, blues singer and songwriter Doc Pomus, gained him further recognition and an opportunity with Sire Records.
Sire Records, an arm of the Warner Records group, released Jimmy Scott’s 1992 album “All the Way” which earned Scott a nomination for a Grammy Award. Between 1994 and 1998, Jimmy Scott released three albums: the 1994 “Dreams”, “Heaven” released in 1996, and an album of pop/ rock interpretations entitled “Holding Back the Years”. This last album earned an award for Best Jazz Album of 2000, and included covers of songs written by Prince, Lennon, Elvis Costello, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Jimmy Scott’s early recordings for Decca Records and Savoy Records were re-released as a box set in 1999. He signed with Milestone Records in 2000 and recorded four albums with guests such as Wynton Marsalis, Renne Rosnes, and Lewis Nash. His final recording took place at his home in May of 2014, a track written for him by Grégoire Maret titled “The 26th of May” which appears on Maret’s album “Wanted”.
Scott performed at the inaugurations of both President Eisenhower and William Clinton, singing “Why Was I Born”. He received the NEA Jazz Masters award in 2007, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America in 2010. Jimmy Scott was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. He died in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas on June 12, 2014 at the age of eighty-eight years. He is buried in Knollwood Cemetery in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
“As singers, we all deal in pain. We’re all trying to push the pain through the music and make it sound pretty. Jimmy Scott has more pain and prettiness in his voice than any singer anywhere”
– Ray Charles