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The Legacy of Jimmy Scott

A new doc and album underscore the vocalist's generous spirit and undying influence

Jimmy Scott, who died in 2014, at age 88, sang with a sense of honesty and vulnerability that earned him a legion of famous fans
Jimmy Scott and Ralf Kemper, who produced the singer's final album, "I Go Back Home"
Jimmy Scott with Joe Pesci and Dee Dee Bridgewater, two of the guests on "I Go Back Home"

Music history has more than its share of outcasts and eccentrics. Its annals are also filled with tales of thwarted careers and glorious resurrections. And, sadly, there are endless examples of artists bilked by unscrupulous advisors and handlers. Vocalist Jimmy Scott, arguably the finest balladeer of the past century, his influence felt well beyond the jazz milieu, checked all those boxes.

Scott, who died two years ago, just a month shy of his 89th birthday, never attained mainstream stardom, yet he ranks among the most respected “singer’s singers,” his long list of acolytes and admirers stretching from Nancy Wilson to Madonna, Frankie Valli to Lou Reed. His story, a twisted saga of personal and professional struggles, dogged perseverance against towering odds and ultimate-if relative-triumph is so fascinating, so singular, that during his lifetime he was the subject of four documentaries. Most recent is I Go Back Home, which chronicles the German producer Ralf Kemper’s relentless efforts to realize his dream of working with Scott, on what would prove to be the singer’s final album. Directed by Yoon-Ha Chang, the film premiered this past March at Austin’s South by Southwest festival. The accompanying double album, to be released on Jan. 27 by Kemper’s Eden River Records, spans widespread studio sessions, begun in 2009, capturing Scott and a stellar cast of guests including Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Moody, Oscar Castro-Neves, Kenny Barron, Joey DeFrancesco, Grégoire Maret, Terry Gibbs and one of Scott’s longtime friends, the actor and singer Joe Pesci.

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