JIMMY SCOTT – HEAVEN (Warner Bros.)1996
With a career plagued by bad luck remarkable even for the cutthroat entertainment industry, Jimmy Scott, at age 71 is still an unknown commodity to most of the listening public. Unscrupulous management and unfair recording contracts have resulted in many of his best performances remaining unreleased or virtually impossible to find.
First recording in 1948 as vocalist with Lionel Hampton’s band, he has recorded sporadically ever since, working with such legends as Charles Mingus and Ray Charles. One of the great jazz ballad singers, the few Scott albums to see release are today cherished collector’s items.
Billed as “Little” Jimmy Scott, a diminutive stature and delicate looks led many to assume he was a child. Due to a medical condition Scott never went through puberty. In addition to the more obvious physical ramifications, Scott’s voice has remained high pitched, resulting in a sound that is somewhere between adolescent and a mature saloon singer, as likely to alienate as attract, with an eerie sense that once heard is not easy to forget. Scott often takes numbers at painfully slow tempo, emphasizing the songs’ lyrics, phrasing each word to create an intimate, at times almost otherworldly sound.
In 1992 Scott signed with Sire/Warner Bros., finally securing a fair recording contract. Heaven, the third album for the label, is made up entirely of gospel-based material. While there are a number of traditional numbers, more surprising are those from less obvious sources: songs by Talking Heads, Curtis Mayfield and Bob Dylan mix easily with standards like Just As I Am and Wayfairin’ Stranger. Scott’s treatment on these tune is such that little of the original melody is left intact. Familiar songs transform into entirely new creations: Julie Miller’s All My Tears, already covered by Emmylou Harris on last years’ Wrecking Ball, comes off as a long lost jazz ballad, hardly reminiscent of the original version.
A few years back Scott appeared on an episode of TV’s Twin Peaks as a lounge singer. The role was entirely fitting: an otherworldly singer with chops that appear heaven sent, but with a decidedly bizarre twist. Ethereal lounge. In Heaven we get a very personal glimpse of one individual’s relationship with his Creator.
© John Cody 1996
Ted Gioia: The History of Jazz, Oxford, 1998.
THERE IS a long-standing tradition of jazz artists incorporating aspects of the gospel into their music, from spirituals by Louis Armstrong and Charlie Haden to jazz librettos from Dave Brubeck and Stan Kenton and the more esoteric works of Charles Mingus, Pharaoh Sanders and John Coltrane.
All these artists are given ample space in The History of Jazz, a fast moving, concise (400 page) account of the form. The book covers all eras and significant players, offering far more than a cursory overview of the music. From the very beginnings to present day, each era’s story is told in a way that stirs the imagination and will have the reader eager to explore the music. Anyone, from neophyte to longtime afficionado, will find plenty to enjoy.
• Richard Cook and Brian Norton, editors: Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Fourth Edition, Penguin, 1998.
This massive tome (over 1,700 pages) consists of reviews, reviews and more reviews. Nothing else. No bios, no photos, just the goods on individual albums. The authors betray a preference for specific styles, but that’s half the fun. With a decidedly Eurocentric approach, the Penguin Guide covers hundreds of artists who have never made it across the pond; a number of European-only releases are included.
• Steve Holtje and Nancy Ann Lee, editors: All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller/Freeman, 1998.
In addition to more than 1,200 pages covering 18,000 recordings and 1,700 artists, All Music Guide includes an additional 150 pages of essays, critiques of jazz-related books and videos and profiles of significant record labels and producers from the genre.
• Michael Erlewine et al, editors: Music Hound Guide to Jazz, Visible Ink, 1998.
Music Hound entries include a short bio, followed by sections on what to buy, what to buy next, the rest (discs rated, but without write ups), worth searching for (out of print, vinyl), and, if applicable, what to avoid. More than half the releases in this 1,300 page work are rated without comments. Bonus points for including Spike Jones.
As with all Music Hound titles, a CD featuring well known artists from the genre is included. Ten significant Blue Note recordings are featured, including Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Chet Baker and Dinah Washington.
© John Cody 1999