I’m still surprised by the number people who haven’t come across Jimmy Scott. He was a huge influence on many jazz and soul singers. The singing of Nancy Wilson, in particular, owes a very obvious debt to Scott.
Kallmann’s syndrome – a hormonal condition that blocks the onset of puberty – resulted in Scott’s unique, high pitched voice but, while this is beautiful in itself, it is his deep emotionalism and, specifically, languid phrasing that really defines his appeal (perhaps its most discussed feature is his extraordinary ability to hang behind the beat). He is a pure ballad singer who, like Billie Holiday, is able to access the pain of a life full of tragedy and injustice to empower his interpretations.
David Ritz’s excellent biography, Faith In Time, lays bare a life of quite extraordinary struggle and bad luck – despite which Jimmy, apparently possessed of an almost superhuman ability to resist bitterness, remained optimistic and was able to enjoy the success that finally came his way towards the end of his life.
Perhaps the defining moment of his early career was signing with Herman Lubinsky’s Savoy record label. He made some fine recordings for Savoy – including perhaps the definitive version of When Did You Leave Heaven and a gorgeous rendition of I’m Through With Love (yes, the one that Marilyn sings in Some Like It Hot). Despite failing to promote Scott’s recordings, Lubinsky then maliciously prevented him from recording for other labels for the best part of a generation. Ray Charles recorded Scott in 1963 (the now legendary Falling In Love is Wonderful album) but Lubinsky effectively prevented its release. He did the same when Jimmy recorded an extraordinary album for Atlantic in 1969, The Source. Produced by Joel Dorn it featured the likes of Junior Mance, Ron Carter and Bruno Carr with sax solos from Fathead Newman and charts by Arif Mardin and Bill Fischer which, finally, gave Jimmy all the room he needed to stretch out and show what he could do.
Although some of Jimmy’s later recordings are terrific, The Source is without doubt the greatest of his career. Once again however, Lubinsky intervened. The album was pressed but quickly withdrawn (becoming a collector’s item in the process) and only finally reappeared in 2001. It is a tragedy that Scott was not more widely recorded at what was, undoubtedly, the peak of his powers.
Our Day Will Come is atypical of the album and, indeed, much of Jimmy’s oeuvre. Many of the songs (Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, Day By Day etc) are deeply sad and even here a song which is usually upbeat acquires extraordinary poignancy. Scott also eschews some of the more dramatic effects (or affectations depending on your point of view) which some find profoundly affecting and others simply trying – notably long, high, anguished notes drained of vibrato (Nancy Wilson incorporated them wholesale into her singing – with, it should be noted, full credit to her idol Jimmy). Consequently, many find this track more approachable than some of the others. I think it’s beautiful.