Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Jimmy Scott

17th June 2014

Jimmy Scott. The singer.
Words by Joe McEwen.

Jimmy Scott was a singer. Though his musical support was mostly jazz-powered, he was not your typical jazz singer but instead sang ballads and sang them as if the delivery of each syllable was an extraction of precious metal. Scott sang sad songs from the the songbooks favoured by Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, two artists who shared his deep, mature and naked emotional investment. On stage, Jimmy Scott bled for his audience and more likely, himself. An orphan aged 13 and inflicted with Kallmann Syndrome (a condition that prevented him from reaching puberty), Scott inhabited an often harrowing, unwelcome universe. Jimmy Scott always stood on the outside looking in.

My own connection with Jimmy Scott began in college with an album on Atlantic Records called The Source (1969).The Source was produced by Philadelphia jazz DJ turned record man Joel Dorn. It was jazz but it wasn’t quite, featuring stalwarts Jr. Mance, Ron Carter and David Newman as support. The music was otherworldly to a college freshman; a raw, bittersweet emotion that was soul music of the deepest kind but buttressed by a fragrant unit of NYC jazz players. And the voice pouring into each song was hypnotic, the very fragile cry of a lonely spirit; “On Broadway” and “Our Day Will Come” among them. It was not quite male, but then not female (although close your eyes and he sounded a little like Nancy Wilson, to me anyway).

Our paths crossed remarkably enough at Sire Records in 1991. Over a period of five years Scott recorded a trilogy of albums for us, All The Way (Tommy LiPuma), Dream (Mitchell Froom) and Heaven (Craig Street), that remain very personal to me. But this not my story. These three projects would certainly not have happened without Seymour Stein and Bill Bentley, and probably not without the death of Jimmy’s friend and champion Doc Pomus, whose funeral service occasioned Scott’s solo delivery of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” a riveting moment that stunned the assembled, including Seymour and myself. The Sire albums, each its own uniquely conceived masterpiece, enabled Jimmy Scott to perform regularly for the rest of his life.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to a Jimmy Scott album all the way through, much as it was seeing him live. One song is often so draining, requiring an undivided emotional investment. I think Jimmy Scott was a genius, a very mortal man who gave everything for the cause. He was born on July 17, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio and died on June 12, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy Scott was indeed a singer.

Jimmy Scott, born 17 July 1925; died 12 June 2014

Joe McEwen, a Philadelphia native, has been a writer, DJ and record label A+R man. He currently does A+R for Concord Music Group in California.