As Black History Month celebrations begin, one of music’s most talented and unique singers is fittingly receiving his due with the first of two albums showcasing his artistry: Jimmy Scott.
Who is Jimmy Scott? The jazz singer — aka Little Jimmy Scott — worked with such icons as Quincy Jones and Lionel Hampton. He was the one artist who Ray Charles ever produced (“He is the only singer who can make me cry,” the legend once said) and also performed at the Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton presidential inaugurations in 1953 and 1993, respectively. And his distinctive, sing-behind-the-beat phrasing has won fans from Elton John and Sting to Madonna and the late Lou Reed.
I Go Back Home, the first release in the planned double rollout, finds Dee Dee Bridgewater, Renee Olstead, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody, Joey DeFrancesco, Oscar Castro-Neves, Kenny Barron, Peter Erskine and Oscar-winning actor/singer Joe Pesci among the diverse array of high-profile guests either duetting with or playing behind the mesmerizing Scott. The selections range from such standards as “For Once in My Life” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” to Scott’s modest hit of 50 years ago, “Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool.” With mixes produced by the late Grammy-winning producer Phil Ramone, I Go Back Home was recorded before Scott’s death in June 2014 at the age of 88.
Listen to Jimmy Scott and Joe Pesci duet on “The Nearness of You”:
The making of Scott’s final album, released Jan. 27 via Eden River Records, is chronicled in the documentary Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home. The award-winning film, which premiered last year at SXSW, features appearances and reflections from Quincy Jones, Pesci, Moody (who, along with Castro-Neves, has since died), singer Monica Mancini, Grammy-winning producer Tommy LiPuma and Scott’s biographer David Ritz.
For Scott, lyrics were very important. As he explained his style to Eden River president Ralf Kemper, who also produced the new album and co-produced film, “If you’re singing a song or telling the story in a song, it should mean something,” said Scott. “That’s why I protect what I have in it because that’s where I believe it should go: It should mean something. It should make sense.”
Woven throughout the film are stories about Scott’s troubled childhood, the rare syndrome that stopped him from reaching puberty — yet gifted him with an expressive, soaring tenor — touring with Hampton’s band and record contract issues that plagued his career and halted album releases, including the aforementioned project with Charles. Among Scott’s career sweet spots: 1992’s LiPuma-produced album All the Way, which netted a Grammy nod for the then-63-year-old singer, and a guest appearance on David Lynch’s pioneering TV series Twin Peaks.
The documentary has since won awards at several other festivals, including last year’s Harlem International Film Festival, and will continue to play more throughout 2017. In early 2018, the film will be released in theaters, on DVD and online along with volume two of the album package.
A longstanding Scott fan, Kemper says the idea to record a project together was first triggered in late fall 2008 when he recalled an earlier conversation that he’d had with the artist. Learning later that Scott was seriously ill, the project was immediately pushed forward. “I became obsessed with the idea,” adds Kemper, “that musicians from all different kinds of backgrounds and all different ages should get together to make Jimmy´s artistry of masterful storytelling public and available for future generations.”
Here is the complete track list for I Go Back Home:
1. Motherless Child – Featuring Joey De Fancesco
2. The Nearness Of You – Duet with Joe Pesci
3. Love Letters
4. Easy Living – Duet with Oscar Castro-Neves
5. Someone to Watch Over Me – Featuring Renee Olstead
6. How Deep is the Ocean – Featuring Denny Barron
7. If I Ever Lost You – Featuring Till Brönner
8. For Once in My Life – Duet with Dee Dee Bridgewater
9. I Remember You – Featuring Monica Mancini & Arturo Sandoval
10. Everybody is Somebody’s Fool – Featuring James Moody
11. Folks Who Live on the Hill – Featuring Joe Pesci
12. Poor Butterfly – Featuring Gregoire Maret