At long last, Jimmy Scott is no longer the biggest little secret in jazz. Treasured for more than a half-century by diehard aficionados, and singled out by Billie Holiday as a personal hero, Scott spent a lifetime in stardom's shadow, suffering even greater anonymity than the equally underappreciated Jackie Paris. In recent years, though, strong rally cries have been sounded for wide appreciation of the snappy 76-year-old's renaissance. The diminutive singer's long overdue due, fueled in part by classy reissues of his vintage Coral, Brunswick and Savoy material, has earned his current string of Milestone albums the kind of A-list retail and radio exposure he's always deserved.
Scott's inimitable sound has forever been defined by his vocal fragility. His delicate, whispery voice is, in fact, often mistaken as female. (In a famous bit of Scott lore, some of his earliest recordings with Lionel Hampton were wrongly credited to Hampton's girl singer, Irma Curry.) On his latest release, But Beautiful, he sounds something akin to a rich, mellow blend of Rosemary Clooney and Julie Wilson at their mature best. Such echoes are, however, tempered by the soothing, distinctive rasp of a scrappy Midwestern survivor who's cleared physical and professional hurdles with equal grace.
As always, Scott's taste is impeccable. Winding a gentle path through 10 standards, he infuses such traditionally melancholy fare as "You Don't Know What Love Is," "Darn That Dream" and "This Bitter Earth" with the sort of emotional sagacity that can only be gleaned from decades of gutsy perseverance. Deep, rich ballads like "It Had to Be You," "But Beautiful" and "I'll Be Seeing You" are, on the other hand, obviously the work of a lifelong romantic. Elsewhere, Scott discovers an ideal sparring partner in Freddy Cole, as the two old pros swap lines on "When You Wish Upon a Star," then he dances alone through a refreshingly ebullient "Bye Bye Blackbird."
The most precious gem of this priceless collection is his shimmering treatment of "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"-a towering achievement, made all the more impressive by Renee Rosnes' velvety piano accompaniment.