“Little” Jimmy Scott—born James Victor Scott—had one of the most distinctive voices and styles in jazz. Both his small stature and his unusually high contralto sound were caused by a rare genetic condition, but he was not hampered by that. He rocketed to attention in the 50s and 60s, performing with Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, and many others.
His career spanned sixty-five years, with a long dry spell in the middle when he was forced to make ends meet with menial jobs. He has almost twenty recordings as a leader, and is the subject of at least two documentaries. He performed at the inaugurations for two presidents—Eisenhower in 1953 and Clinton in 1993—and received many of the highest honours available to jazz musicians, including the NEA Jazz Master Award, the Kennedy Center’s “Jazz in Our Time” Living Legend Award, and the NABOB Pioneer Award. In 2013, he was inducted into the R&B Music Hall of Fame.
Friend and fellow musician Lou Reed describes “Little” Jimmy this way: “He has the voice of an angel and can break your heart. Here is the singer’s singer if labels mean anything. Listening to Jimmy is like having a performing heart. The experience of life and the art of expression sing through Jimmy and make us partners in his incredible passion…. When the song stops with Jimmy’s last note we’re back in the world as it was. Not quite so pretty, not quite so passionate. And we can only wait for Jimmy to sing again and take us that little bit higher.”
“Little” Jimmy Scott died on June 12, 2014, a month short of his 89th birthday.