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Farewell: Jimmy Scott (Online Exclusive)

7.17.25-6.12.14

Jimmy Scott appears with longtime admirer Madonna in her music video for "Secret" in 1999. Madonna reportedly said of the jazz vocalist, "Jimmy Scott is the only singer who'd ever really made me cry."
2007 NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Scott
Jimmy Scott

Beginning today, and throughout the rest of the month of March, JazzTimes will post the “Farewells” included in our March 2015 print edition. Each piece features a prominent jazz artist offering his or her recollections of an artist who left us during 2014. First though, we asked Todd Barkan, a legendary producer of jazz recordings and live music events for more than 40 years, for his words on the great vocalist Jimmy Scott, for whom Barkan produced four albums for Milestone Records. This online exclusive is being presented for the first time here.

Jimmy Scott created a universe in which time stands still. When I heard him sing the world stopped twirling around so fast. I felt transfixed by his music. It was very hypnotic and spoke to something deep inside me. Some musicians have told me that when you recorded or rehearsed or made music with Jimmy, just like the title of his autobiography, Faith in Time, you had to have enough faith in your own sense of time. You might be going down the street with him and then he’d go down an alley and meet you at the next intersection but a block down the street-he may be behind the beat or ahead of the beat, but he’d always be there with you.

I first heard Jimmy Scott on the radio in Columbus, Ohio, and I thought it was Nancy Wilson. Then I soon found out from Nancy herself that Jimmy was her biggest influence. And it was Rahsaan Roland Kirk who actually introduced me to Jimmy pretty early in my life, although I didn’t get a chance to work with him until much later, when I booked him and produced four records with him.

Jimmy was one of the most endearing people I knew. He was a delight to be with. Sometimes he could get a little dark but I understood that because of what he’d been through in his life; you had to take into consideration, you could not deny, the depths to which he had been hurt, so irreparably in certain ways that he carried the scars of that pain deep down inside. You felt that pain and sometimes you felt his recalcitrance, but just like he did, you had the faith that although he might go through a dark moment, very quickly he’d go back into the light. In the long run he transcended his pain in music and by working; he wanted to work as much as possible.

I was a Jimmy Scott supporter, a Jimmy Scott advocate-I bought hundreds of copies of his recordings and gave them to people because I wanted to share that music, which was not well known. He is one of our greatest treasures, and certainly one of the treasures of my life was having known him and having experienced his music. Just being able to hear him sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Mood Indigo” and “Strange Fruit” is earth-shattering. He was a blessing to us all.

There’s this thing he said to me in the ’60s when I met him, and he kept saying it to me for the next 40 years: “Ain’t no sense kickin’ it, baby. You’ll just get a sore toe!” That was Jimmy Scott to me. He was always a friend, but he was a friend of the music more than anything. [As told to Jeff Tamarkin]

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