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Faith in Time: the Life of Jimmy Scott.

by David Ritz Da Capo Press, September 2002 $25.00, ISBN 0-306-81088-3

Both the artistry and mystery of jazz singer Jimmy Scott has intrigued music aficionados, enduring fans, fellow musicians and avid listeners ever since he began crooning in the 1940s. His unique singing voice haunts the air in the manner a whisper calls from the shadows. And then there is his androgynous physical appearance, which can easily catch one off guard. With the first lines of any ballad that Scott emotes, the listener becomes enraptured by the sentiment that flows forth, dearly connecting the singer's emotions to the song. In the biography Faith in Time, author David Ritz chronicles the heartrendering events of Scott's life--from his uneasy beginnings in Cleveland to that of a newly discovered yet "odd" singer, and finally that of a jazz icon.

There was tragedy even in Jimmy Scott's birth: He had Kallman's Syndrome, an hereditary, hormonal deficiency that arrested his growth, and as an adult, his voice and his appearance caused many to mistake him often for a woman. After the sudden death of his mother, followed by the separation from his siblings and moving into various foster homes, Scott embarked upon a career as a singer.

His ethereal voice led him to musical geniuses such as Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Ray Charles, as well as prominent dealmakers in the recording industry. Little Jimmy Scott, as he was called, was hailed by his peers. But Scott's career never took full flight. It's hard to discount some of his problems and setbacks as plain old hard luck; a string of shady deals and canceled or shelved records led to anxiety and frustration that plagued him for much of his life. Scott's private life faired no better. Numerous intimate relationships that began with promise slipped away from him. Run-ins with his estranged father and bouts with alcohol contributed heavily to his pain.

In 1950, Jimmy Scott recorded what was perhaps his first--and for a long time--hit, his signature tune: "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" While jazz buffs and recording luminaries praised Scott's originality, his career continued merely to flutter, never reaching the heights he hoped for. At one time, many people even believed he was dead. Scott's passion for singing and performing stayed foremost in his mind, yet he often had to resort to work off the stage--as a nursing home orderly or an elevator operator--to make ends meet.

David Ritz is the author of Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye; and he's the cowriter of the biographies of Etta James, Aretha Franklin and B.B King. With Faith in Time, Ritz adds another legend to his roster. Jimmy Scott himself makes the book an interesting read. His marriages, his love of singing and his dedication to his music are moving. And his recollection of meeting some of jazz's giants is charming and colorful: "I was even prouder when Billie caught me after my set ... I knew she was high, but she was never haughty in her high ... Her high seemed to lift her on a cloud of sweetness ..." Scott's encounters with other musicians and record execs are insightful.

Now, at age 78, Jimmy Scott has been rediscovered and his career rekindled. He has gained wider critical acclaim, performing in nightclubs across the country and lending his distinctive styling to set a mood to films. Faith in Time reveals all of the heartbreak behind Scott's newfound success. It is also a testimony of his faith.
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Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Reynolds, Clarence V.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
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