Jimmy Scott was a revered jazz singer who played with Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, and who appeared in Twin Peaks.
‘‘Jimmy had soul way back when people weren’t using the word,’’ Ray Charles once said. Scott worked with some of the greatest names in jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Charles Mingus. Among the singer’s many admirers were Elton John, Lou Reed, Richard Thompson and Madonna.
He was born in Cleveland on July 17, 1925. His mother, who inspired his passion for music, died in a traffic accident when Scott was only 13. He first came to prominence in 1949, when he recorded the vocals as ‘‘Little Jimmy Scott’’ on the song Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, recorded with the Lionel Hampton Band. His name, however, did not appear on the record, and he never received royalties from the jukebox hit. He attracted attention, though, and went on to perform with Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Mingus.
In 2011, he talked in an interview about what it was like working with some of the jazz legends. ‘‘I was living in New York. Sometimes our gang of musicians would go to Louis Armstrong’s home and play records. It was a lesson, like going to school at night. Ella Fitzgerald was an inspiration, too, a unique artist. When you had an opportunity to be with people like them, you cherished it.’’
His signature high voice came from Kallmann’s syndrome, which kept him from experiencing puberty and stunted his growth. He stood just under five feet – and his high-pitched voice did not change during his adult life. At age 37, he grew another eight inches to the height of 5’7". He also suffered from congestive heart failure and was a heavy drinker and smoker.
A record label dispute prevented Scott from making an album in the 1950s that had been produced by Ray Charles. Scott’s previous record company, Savoy Records, said it had an exclusive lifetime contract with him, and the company blocked Scott’s efforts to release new records for nearly 20 years. Savoy Records dropped the matter in the 1970s. By that time, Scott had returned to Cleveland, where he worked as a hotel clerk and nursing home aide before returning to the stage in 1985 and resuming his recording career in 1990.
At the age of 67, he was rediscovered by a Warner Bros executive who heard him sing at a friend’s funeral and the result was All the Way, an album which earned him a new cult following, especially in Japan. He went on to release several more recordings, including the jazz-gospel album Heaven. He was also the subject of a documentary film Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew and a biography Faith In Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott.
He also appeared in the series finale of Twin Peaks, singing the song Sycamore Trees, co-written by the show’s creator David Lynch. ‘‘I love show business,’’ Scott said in 2004. ‘‘It’s my life, honey, and I try to enjoy it.’’
In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, America’s highest jazz honour.
Jimmy Scott is survived by his wife, Jeanie.