The world became a little quieter on Thursday when Little Jimmy Scott, the incomparable jazz vocalist died at the venerable age of 88. My parents were fans and I grew up listening to his music. He was not a well-known singer and I have bonded with more than one person over our mutual love for his voice and music and utter loss as to why he was so unappreciated. Even the New York Times agrees, saying he was “”perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.” There’s a lovely article with several videos of his music here.
One reason he was so unappreciated is that his early label Savoy refused to allow him to record with other labels even after he was no longer with him. Like many artists of the 1950s and 60s, he was trapped by an abusive and exploitive record contract that kept him out of music for over 15 years – years he worked in as a cook, a nurse’s aide and hotel clerk. But he never gave up and never became bitter and was rewarded by a renaissance that brought him much deserved acclaim and a measure of justice.
Most people know him thanks to his appearance in Twin Peaks, singing Sycamore Trees. His voice could have an eerie quality that made it perfect for David Lynch’s surrealism. I always have found peace while listening to his voice and still do. I am listening now and although it makes me sad that his light has gone from this world, I am so grateful his music will be with us forever.
When I was recovering from surgery and unable to take any pain meds thanks to my horrible reaction to them, learning to cope with incredible pain was very important. Little Jimmy Scott helped me a lot then, his tender and magical voice transporting me and giving me strength and rest from the pain. I would play his “Someone to Watch Over Me” over and over and over again. Listen and you will hear his magic.
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