Friday, February 11, 2011

Jimmy Scott

James Victor Scott (July 17, 1925 - June 12, 2014) has a preternaturally high contralto voice, a result of Kallman's Syndrome. He first drew attention as a jazz vocalist in 1950 as a member of the Lionel Hampton Band, under the name Little Jimmy Scott. At that time, he was 4-feet-eleven.

Café Tia Juana
One of Scott's bandmates in the Hampton band was Quincy Jones, who once remarked, "Jimmy would tear my heart out every night with his sole-penetrating style.”

Born in Cleveland, one of Scott's first singing gigs was in elementary school, where he sang the lead in a musical version of Ferdinand the Bull. Scott was classmates with Louis Stokes at Central High School. Scott began singing professionally in nightclubs long before he was of legal age.

In 1954, Sam Firsten opened a nightclub in the Central Market area, at the corner of Huron and East 4th Street (now about fifty paces from The Q) named with no lack of imagination, The Cotton Club. Firsten hired Jimmy Scott to emcee and the produce the evening's programs, which included dancers, comedians and jazz. Within a year, the acts being booked included non-Black performers. The place was jumping seven nights a week -- with matinees on Sunday!

Jimmy himself would take in the work of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington when they would come into town to play the Café Tia Juana, at the corner of 105th and Massie Avenue.

Café Tia Juana is now a fenced-in church parking lot.

Original Café Tia Juana sign
Cuyahoga Community College, Metro Campus
Sighted 11/17/2018

My own introduction to the work of Jimmy Scott was in 1992 with the song Sycamore Trees from the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

This post was updated on 6/14/2014 with the date of Jimmy Scott's death.

Smithsonian Museum of National History
Funding for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program NEA Jazz Master interview was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts
Jimmy Scott Official Website
Joe Mosbrook's Jazzed in Cleveland

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