Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

PBS to Air Jimmy Scott Flick

As we reported here a while back, a director named Matthew Buzzell has made a documentary about Jimmy Scott, one of jazz’s often overlooked master vocalists. Entitled Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, Buzzell’s acclaimed work has made the film festival and art-flick circuit since its premiere at 2002’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. We don’t all live in towns equipped with art-theaters or blessed with film festivals, however, so the movie will come to the small screen and make its television premiere February 24, 2004 on PBS as part of the network’s ongoing Independent Lens series.

The film, which lifts its title from Scott’s 1955 debut LP for Savoy, is a biopic covering the singer’s whole life and features rare concert footage and interviews with the now 78-year-old Scott, family, friends and his biographer, David Ritz. Recounted in the film are Scott’s heartbreaking life and his resilience in the face of immeasurable adversities. Buzzell takes the audience on a journey that explains Scott’s hardships with record labels, family tragedies, his near-disappearance on the music scene and the artistic and commercial renaissance he began enjoying in the late 1980s.

Though Scott is well known for his unique vocal phrasing, his trademark distinction is most certainly his astonishingly high-pitched voice caused by a hormonal deficiency known as Kallman’s syndrome. He was not properly treated for the condition when he was a child.

In recent years Scott acquired a smoky resonance in his voice, but his idiosyncratic phrasing remains intact, sometimes singing so slow and so behind the beat it’s like he’s walking his dog. Still, throughout his remarkable career Scott has recorded some of the great jazz vocal records of all time in spite of his personal and professional troubles. Case in point: Rhino Handmade’s recent reissue of the 1963’s Falling in Love Is Wonderful, an album that was, due to contractual difficulties, pulled off of store shelves right after its release.

The documentary’s TV premiere will be hosted by actor Don Cheadle (Volcano, Ocean’s Eleven). The series, Independent Lens, airs every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. on most PBS affiliates, but check your local listings or just in case. The series features documentaries and other films that spotlight the visions of some unique independent filmmakers. Each week Independent Lens can include anything from a feature-length documentary or drama to a comic short or experimental film piece, so long as the independent spirit of bending conventions and pushing the creative envelope is present.

For more information on Independent Lens visit

For more info on Jimmy Scott in movies, click here.

And if that Falling in Love Is Wonderful reissue sounds interesting to you, check out Rhino Handmade’s Web site.

Originally Published