Elder Jazz Great Tells It Like It Is: Jimmy Scott


POOR correspondent - Posted on 27 April 2010

Author: 
Leroy F Moore Jr.

Elder Jazz Great Tells It Like It Is:  Jimmy Scott

Krip-Hop Nation:
I’m so honored to have a chance to interview you and saw you at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in February 2010.  There is so much to talk about but I want to talk about your experience with a disability in the music industry back in the day and now, your friendship with Ray Charles, Doc Pomus and your life.  Is that ok with you?

Jimmy Scott:   
It's my pleasure, Baby, and thank you for your attention.
 
Krip-Hop Nation: 
I just order your documentary, “If You Only Know”, that I hope I’ll get it in the mail soon.  I read that at 12 years old you were diagnosed with Kallmann’s Syndrome in 1937.  Tell us how was it to be Black with a disability back then?

 
Jimmy Scott:
Our neighborhood at the time was pretty mixed so I can't say I experienced any racial discrimination during that time in my life.  BTW, Kallmann's is not a disability; it's a genetically inherited harmonial deficiency that effects only 2 percent of the population.

I had two uncles before me with Kallmann's on my Mother's side of the family. When I was 12 years old I really didn't know much about it, no one ever explained it to me.  My mother took my brother (whom also had Kallmans) & I together to Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland for hormonal shots but eventually felt that the Doctor's themselves didn't really know much about it either and thought they were using her children as guinea pigs, so she stopped taking us.
 
I didn't have a disability growing up; I've only been performing from a wheelchair for two and a half years.
 

Krip-Hop Nation:
Tell us the story on how you got your nickname, Little Jimmy, and how did you feel about that?

Jimmy Scott:
Lionel Hampton gave the stage name to me in 1948 when I joined his band as one of the featured singers.  I was only 4'11" tall and looked much younger than my years then.  I didn't feel too cool about it because I didn't like anybody calling me "Little" but I put up with it as a stage name in hopes it would help to gain me recognition in my career as an entertainer.

Many artists took that same stage title a little later down the road such as Little Willie John, Little Anthony, etc.....
 
Krip-Hop Nation:
Your story of your youth is just heartbreaking with a car accident the killed your mother and your brothers and sisters being placed in foster care.  How did you and your family stay strong during those times and how did the family get back together?
 
Jimmy Scott:
Yes, my mother reached out to save my older sister from a speeding drunk driver and in doing so got her arm taken off. In those days they didn't know how to control the bleeding once in the hospital, she died 3 days later.

My father was unreliable to care for us kids, none of mother's family would take not one of us in and they were well off. My grandmother told the police to take us to the detention home.  Later we were sent to different foster homes, some were ok for some of the kids, others were not, and they wanted to make slaves out of you.  This was very hard, after mother died and the family was broke up I felt as though I wanted to commit suicide but I had a determination to earn enough money once out on my own to bring the family back together to buy them a house. It never came to be, that was my dream the dream that kept me going but at age 13 no one wanted to get on board with my plan or help in anyway.   I begged my older sister & brother to help me do this but they got a little money from my father and went about their business, the family was separated from that point on.  The only thing that kept me strong was the things my mother taught me before she passed, I held onto her teachings to help carry me through.  For me the family has never gotten back together in the way my mother would have wanted.  They didn't try and that's what hurt the most.

Krip-Hop Nation: 
I just shook my head when I read about your struggles in the music industry and not being credited on albums. Please tell us how did you dealt with that and what’s the difference today

Jimmy Scott:
I had no one to guide or support in handling my business with the music industry.  No one to teach me how to handle my own affairs when dealing with these record label owners on what rights I had as an artist. 

It was disheartening not to get credit for my work be it a song I wrote or my recorded voice being used on some album or record being credited to someone else. Today that's bootlegging.  You want to naturally get credit for your creations.  In the case of today....some things have not changed when it comes to unscrupulous producers who steal your credit and rights.  Yes, they are still around, maybe worse than in the past, in certain cases.  In the 1950's you either wanted to make a record or you didn't at all if you didn't go along, but you knew that much about who you were dealing with.  Today I recently experienced someone whom we took into our trust and he betrayed us.  They don't care how old you are or what your medical situation may be, they take advantage with no conscience what so ever.  That's truly sad.  I'll leave it at that.

 
Krip-Hop Nation: 
I read and interviewed so many Black Blues\Jazz musicians who were ripped off back in the day.  Have you witnessed other musicians with and with out disabilities being ripped off?  If you have can you give us an example?

Jimmy Scott:
Not a disability but a drug dependency in the wonderful artist that was "Big Maybelle", they kept her strung out to take advantage of her.
I would beg her husband to intervene on her behalf but all he would do was complain, it made me very angry.  The record label owners and the booking agents were working together.  They would also claim lifetime contracts on artists.  These things didn't just happen to me or Maybelle, they happened to a lot of the artists especially in the 1950's & 60's.  It was sad to see this kind of mistreatment go on.

Krip-Hop Nation: 
I have always loved your music.  What do you think when you read or hear from mainstream media that you are finally getting your dues in your elderly years?

 Jimmy Scott:
 Baby, I still haven't gotten the shot at the proper recognition or financial support that comes with it. I'm still waiting for my dues and proper respect for my talents.  7 decades of dues paid and I'm still waiting for the highlight of my career.

Krip-Hop Nation:
You worked as a waiter, a dishwasher, a nurse's aide and a hotel elevator operator.  Tell us about that experiences and reentering the music industry after that

Jimmy Scott:
 Well for one, I never left the music industry, I still did concerts on weekends throughout the mid-west during the block a record label owner and the agent  he worked with put on me.  Fortunately, club owners knew and liked me so they would hire me for weekend gigs. I even recorded 5 albums during this period.  The first three were blocked weeks after released by the previous label owner who claimed a lifetime contract on me which was untrue but no one would go to court to fight it so they would just cease and desist.   The fourth album was for this label ironically after the man died and a dear friend came to me to produce it for the company.  The fifth album during this time was for my own label J's Way, which I recorded all original songs written by myself and a few local artists around Newark, N.J.  This was different than anything I recorded before or since.

 
Krip-Hop Nation:
Your biographer David Ritz wrote, "In the macho world of jazz, there's not a lot of liberal thought about sexuality. Here comes Jimmy, who's straight, who has an affliction, whose physical manifestations are smallness and smoothness…. It's going against a lot of cultural conventions."  What is your thought about this thinking of the Jazz world?

Jimmy Scott:
It had nothing to do with sexuality, it had to do with my being of small stature, and the nature of Kallmann's which left me beardless, I never had to shave so my skin was smooth, Kallmann's also means a slow development over time. I grew 7 inches taller when I was 37 years old, just shot up all at once from 4 ft.11inches to 5 ft 7 inches tall.  On the positive side, it has also kept me youthful in many ways and my voice a pure high tenor that can sore to contralto range.

I cannot help the way I was born either you accepted me for myself or you didn't and I accepted that.  My mother taught me that no matter what I was just as good as any other man out there and that's how I lived my life.  I never thought about or dwelt on any negative aspects much.  Despite any mistreatment I may have received by some I never held onto that, never held anything against anyone in the world. I learned to handle those things early in life despite any hurt feelings I may have experienced.   I felt embraced by most of the Jazz World.
 

Krip-Hop Nation:
You worked with and had friendships with other disabled musicians like Ray Charles and Doc Pomus.  Tell us about those relationships:
 
Jimmy Scott:
They were both good friends who tried to lend a hand to get me the recognition 'they' felt my talent deserved.

Ray chose me to be one of the first artists to record for his new Tangerine Label. Ray oversaw everything, we pick songs and rehearsed at his home before going into the studio.  Marty Paitch & Gerald Wilson did lush arrangements with strings, the critics dubbed the album a "masterpiece", right up there with Frank Sinatra's "Wee Small Hours" and Billie Holiday's "Lady In Satin" as the top three jazz vocal albums of all time.  This was the album that was intended to put Jimmy Scott on the map as a household name but after three weeks on the shelves and great airplay, and being overwhelmingly accepted by the public the record was then pulled from the shelves due to a law suit threat from the Savoy Record Label owner Herman Lubinsky, Sr.   This plus a block by his crony Agent Jimmie Evans put a block on my career for decades.  Industry people still had faith in getting me out there. Joel Dorn produced two outstanding albums on me for Atlantic Records only to have them blocked as well.

 Doc Pomus was my champion, he went so far as to even act as an agent for me trying to get the music industry to stand up and take notice before it was too late, by this time I was 60 years old. Doc was my biggest supporter even went so far as writing a letter to Billboard Magazine chastising them for letting artists like me fall through the cracks.  Doc was known and respected by many in the industry, he knew thousands would attend his funeral, when he was ill he asked that I sing his favorite song "Someone To Watch Over Me' because he knew the whole music industry would be in attendance.  When I sang you could hear a pin drop, afterwards Seymour Stein from Sire/Warner practically signed me on the spot. Doc achieved in his transition what he tried to do for me during his life.  When I was young Doc would also get me gigs because he knew a lot of club owners and this helped me pay my rent during hard times. 
I am blessed to have two such great friends and am grateful to have known them.  I have good, good friends in this business not just the other side.

Krip-Hop Nation:
What do you think about the music industry today?

Jimmy Scott:
 I don't feel it's much better, maybe in  some ways on re-cooping 'some' royalties that were long over due. I think they still discriminate, only now I find they are discriminating against my age.   I have a great group of top musicians in my band, I have sold out audiences just about every time I am out doing a concert, yet bookings are low because of my age or because I am singing in a wheelchair at age 85.  An example... we have sold out Dizzy's in New York most nights with heavy praise, celebrities in the audience who came out to see me, great write ups, standing ovations for several years straight.

Now this year we were in the mist of getting booked in for my '85th Birthday Celebration' the weekend of July 17th with jazz master special guest artist, some famous actors, etc.. coming in for the shows, when my wife gets a call from someone telling her that someone will not approve confirmation on Jimmy's booking this year. We were told there was possibly some age discrimination going on!  So beware Pioneers, Living Legends, & Jazz Masters the same thing could happen to you!  The artists that paved the way get no respect still.  How will they survive? That's unconscionable.

Krip-Hop Nation:     
I read that you are working on a new CD that will be dedicating to your wife "Jeanie".   Tell us more about that CD and other future projects?
 

Jimmy Scott:   

But I will say the album is about "Our Story", our love story, and our life together in that each song we picked out has some relevance or meaning to our personal experiences together. We had this list of related songs that I've wanted to record for several years that my wife & I picked out together. We also had in our minds some of the musicians we'd like to have participated with certain friends as "guest duet" partners. It started out as our creation, a beautiful idea about our love but unfortunately "in business" things can turn out badly. There are contractual disputes over our credit for our creation, my and other's singer's rights over future distribution using our voices on projects other than this CD alone. This why the topic of this CD is not up for discussion. What started out with so much hope and trust didn't end up that way. It's sad that something so beautiful has turned into something else. Heartbreaking for my wife, myself, and some of the original singers (who are my personal friends such as Joe Pesci & Dee Dee Bridgewater, etc...) that participated, who no longer support the project. This has become old and done for us already, loll, as we have move onto more positive projects such as the "movie" I just participated in. That's all I have to say on this subject. I've chosen not to discuss this CD with any of the reporters I've done interviews with over this past year or in the future. I've said what I have to say to you and that's it, I'm done!

Upcoming Projects: 
I just did two performances for a 'new movie' starring Mickey Rourke titled "Passion Play", as well as recorded two songs for the soundtrack.   The movie is expected to be released later in the year if production is completed by then.

I am presently working on a new CD of all 'original songs' with Legendary Producers Harvey Fuqua, Lou Ragland, & Flery Bersey. A possible biopic about my life and career, which is in the pre-development stages.
 

Krip-Hop Nation:
Do you think that there is a support system
i.e. retirement income for musicians who are elderly and disabled?  If not or if so what is your suggestion in this area?

Jimmy Scott:
Not much, I know there is a home in Englewood, N.J. for musicians who are elderly, down and out, or disabled but to what extent that goes I couldn't tell you.

There are some benefits in place for actors through organizations like AFTRA & SAG. There is organizations that help musicians during times of need such as the R&B Foundation & the Jazz Foundation who have helped me when I was hospitalized and not able to work. But as far as money in place for retirement I don't think I'll ever see that in my lifetime.  It would be a nice idea.

My only suggestion at this time is to give those elderly artists who can still work and want to work, like me, a chance to do so, the public sure let's us know how much they want us to come to their cities to do a concert.  Artists need to be put to work to live for many reasons, it keeps us young, and spiritually full-filled besides keeping our own roof over our head.  We want to be independent if you let us.  We still do sell-out shows wherever we go!  So hire us!!!
 

Krip-Hop Nation:    
Now you are in an upcoming movie, Passion Play, with your music.  Can you tell us why did you agree to be apart of this movie and will you be in other movies down the line?
 

Jimmy Scott:
Yes, my wife got a call from the Producer, we discussed it and agreed to participate.  We thought it would be a good opportunity to be heard again by broader audiences around the world.  I've done a couple movies on the past and enjoyed working with the other artists and actors.  We recorded the soundtrack in Los Angeles in early January with Joe Henry and a group of great musicians including the upcoming jazz star Christian Scott.  Then went on location in Santa Fe, NM in early February to film the two scenes with Director Mitch Glazer.   One scene was with Mickey Rourke & Megan Fox in Albuquerque, another was with Mickey & Kelly Lynch in Santa Fe.  As far as other movies down the line, let's hope so.

Krip-Hop Nation:
A lot of musicians with disabilities are still being discriminated in the music industry because of their disabilities. What is your advice to them?
 

Jimmy Scott:
I would tell them don't give up!  Be determine to present your talent in proper fashion always.

Krip-Hop Nation:
You have done a track for Minister Louis Farrahkan upcoming CD.  Tell us about the track and how did decide to do this track for this project?

Jimmy Scott:
The good minister called me at home and asked me to be apart of his CD.  My then pianist, my wife & I flew out to the studio. He requested I sing "When I Fall In Love" from my 1975 album "Can't We Begin Again".  It was a 'special request' being the favorite of his late brother, so Minister Farrakhan wanted to honor him by having me sing it on his album.   Minister Farrakhan plays the violin, he handpicked some of the best jazz musicians to play on it.  We recorded in Chicago in November of 2006.  I believe the title will be "A Remembrance".  The minister is a perfectionist so he's still tweaking it to perfection.  It's going to be a beautiful album.  I think the public with be in for a special surprise.
 

Krip-Hop Nation: 
As a songwriter what is important for a person who is beginning to write songs?

Jimmy Scott:
To know the content of the story she or he's telling.  By that I mean it's better if they have lived that story themselves. To be able to illustrate in a manner that will connect with or reach out to the public.  The public should be able to relate to the story in the song.  Write from the heart.
 

Krip-Hop Nation:
Thank you so much and if you have any last words please share them with us.  Give us your website.

                          
Jimmy Scott:
You may give out a little but never give up!  That's my motto to live by. I thank you and God Bless you. 

"I think what you are doing for the disabled community is a wonderful thing. I especially like that you've kept your message on a positive note.  Never give up on your dreams, anything is possible as long as you stay positive and never give up.  Music is the universal language that brings joy to everyone"

Best of Luck,

Website:  www.jimmyscottofficialwebsite.org

Facebook:  LEGENDARY JIMMY SCOTT

Interview by Krip-Hop Nation
 

PNN RADIO

Sign-up for POOR email!