Date of Release Mar 12, 2002
There's something in the languid soprano of Jimmy Scott's voice that communicates heartache in a way few other vocalists can touch; even when he's singing a relatively upbeat number, the nooks and crannies of Scott's stretched-out phrasing and subtle vibrato conjure vivid images of late nights and lost loves, while managing to make romantic melancholy sound almost luxurious in its beauty. But Beautiful, Scott's third album for Milestone (and seventh since his comeback in the early '90s - not bad for a man who once went 15 years between sessions), is cut from the same cloth as his previous sets for the label, Mood Indigo and Over the Rainbow. Producer Todd Barkan has once again set Scott up with a small combo of superb jazz players (including Joe Beck on guitar and guest shots from Wynton Marsalis and Freddy Cole) and subtle but compelling arrangements (mostly by pianist Renee Rosnes) of ten classic standards; if But Beautiful is less ambitious than Scott's "comeback" albums for Warner Bros., there's no arguing that it plays to his strengths and captures Scott in marvelous form. At the age of 76, Scott's voice is losing just a bit of its elasticity, but for the most part his instrument is in surprisingly good shape, and his sense of phrasing remains impeccable; plenty of Oscar-winning actors could not express longing and loss as eloquently as Scott does on "Darn That Dream" and "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and the agonizing clarity of his hope on "When You Wish Upon a Star" is enough to move the hardest heart. Jimmy Scott's recent work gives the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous remark that there are no second acts in American lives, and if But Beautiful doesn't capture him at the absolute peak of his form, plenty of singers half his age would be grateful to make an album that commanded a fraction of this set's power to move the heart and soul.
- Mark Deming (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
It is impossible to simply like Jimmy Scott. You fall in love with him. You adore him. You want to spend every minute in his company.
The same passion you feel for his personality you feel for his music. In fact, his persona and his music are indistinguishable. As a man and as an artist, he excites adulation through a peculiar mix of quiet modesty and lilting charm.
Other recording sessions may be marked by tension over deadlines or disputes over interpretations. Jimmy's sessions are love fests, relaxed affairs where all participants-engineers, musicians, friends, fans, and writers alike-are wrapped up in the warm aura of abiding love. The source of that love is, of course, the diminutive singer who, in his 76th year, serves as one of the great masters of our music, an unassuming guru whose use of time and space deepens our understanding of the world of . In the pre-terror summer of 2001, the world of SoHo is alive with creative commerce. The energy is high. In a basement studio on a street bustling with edgy fashion and ultra-hip art, an artist from an earlier era considers new ways to sing old songs. That consideration is prompted by producer Todd Barkan, the force behind two previous discs - Mood Indigo and Over the Rainbow - which, together with But Beautiful, comprise a deeply satisfying trilogy.
"My notion," says Barkan, "is to have Jimmy, an extraordinarily sensitive reader of the Great American Songbook, reexamine those texts in an atmosphere that is both comfortable and The stimulation starts the minute Jimmy arrives with his lady Jeanie. He is America's most affable man, a singer whose stalled career didn't get moving until he was 60. For all the misfortune of missed. opportunities, he bears not a trace of bitterness. His spiritual essence-a combination of the lessons of Jesus and wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda-is a reservoir of acceptance. Notions of regret do not cloud his worldview.
"Look, baby," he tells you in old-school hipster mode, "jazz is about today, not yesterday. Jazz lives in the present tense. Jazz is the moment Jazz is now. If you worry about time, you'll never get with jazz.. The genius of jazz is how it frees time so we can forget time. Jazz lets us enjoy time." The But Beautiful sessions transcend enjoyment. They're about joy. The joy is rnultigeneratiorial. Take the tenor saxists, for instance. Eric Alexander/is a young lion of formidable strength. Bob Kindred is a veteran titan of formidable experience. Musically, they both melt in Jimmy's arms. Eric's energy turns to grace; Bob's grace turns to poetry. Both men, musicians of elevated sensibilities, find themselves operating on even higher levels of expression.
"The chance, to play with Jimmy Scott," says Alexander, "is more than a pleasure; it's a gift." "My idea of nirvana," adds Kindred, "is to accompany Jimmy on every single gig, here on earth and later in the great beyond."
Here on earth the sessions move along briskly. Jimmy is thrilled with the rhythm section of Renee Rosnes, Lewis Nash, and George Mraz, calling them "three beautiful hearts beating as one." In his denim jumpsuit, the singer looks a little like a marionette, his long arms dangling,' his hands gesticulating, his face radiant with a broad smile. He assumes authority over these weighty songs without effort or pretense, Each contains a precious memory, a moment in the history of the music to which he's personally connected.
"This Bitter Earth" invokes Dinah Washington. Jimmy calls her "my sister. And she called me Tat Daddy.' Whenever she couldn't make a gig, she'd slip me in. Tat Daddy,' she'd say, 'if you show up for me, no one will be disappointed.' That wasn't true, but I thanked her anyway and ran off to take her place at the: Flame Show Bar in Detroit or Club Delisa in Chicago."
"Please Send Me Someone to Love" invokes Percy Mayfield, its author. Jimmy calls him "the Prophet of the Blues." The man was a natural poet. We hung out when Ray Charles was producing me back in the Sixties and stayed friends forever. Percy wrote for Ray, but he really, wrote for the ages." "You Don't Know What Love Is" and. "But Beautiful" invoke Lady Day. "I met Billie in the Forties," recalls Jimmy, "when she'd come see me perform at the Baby Grand on 125th Street or at the Caravan in Newaric. Later we became cousin. For Lady's frailties, 1 saw her as a tower of strength. Her strength was her artistry. It never fell. It never will. She sang these songs on her Lady in Satin session, one of her last. Some say her voice was gone. I say she never sounded so true, so vulnerable. To me, vulnerability is beautiful.''
"When You Wish Upon a Star" invokes His childhood; "I was into Jiminy Cricket,"he says, "and how he pushed Pinocchio onto the right road. The simplest songs last longest."
When Freddy Cole arrives to help Jimmy sing that simple song, the two senior citizens- in Barkan's words, "two of the greatest living jazz singers in the world" - carry on with the playfolness of children. Their rapport is magical and the moment is pure spirit. Listening to the playback. Jimmy is pleased. "Back in the day," he says, "the music was so embracing."
The music, whether Wynton Marsalis's sublime flourishes on "Darn That Dream" or Lew Soloffs emphatic punctuations to "Bye Bye Blackbird," is a series of intimate dialogues. Jimmy and guitarist Joe Beck, for example, study the meaning of the title song with a soft intensity, a conversation of mutual respect and tender feeling.
Jimmy Scott exudes tenderness. Like all of us, he is not without his darker demons, but in the studio those demons are lost in the shadows of his sincerity. The SoHo studio is a respite, a refuge where all that matters is what Jimmy calls "the collaboration of common thoughts." The mood is sustained for four days. The enthusiasm never wanes. Jimmy jumps up off the couch to fetch a cup of tea. Jimmy settles back down and listens to the bass line, the piano fills, the unhurried groove. Jimmy closes his eyes and disappears; into a private dream. He returns to the vocal booth and stirs the angels from their sleep. He has handshakes and hugs for everyone, words of gratitude, expressions of appreciation.
In the end, the final song, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," is not a song at all. It is a prayer in the same way all Jimmy Scott songs become prayers, small miracles of transformation from the merely sentimental to the sacred. "Sacred music," Jimmy explains, "is the kind that sees us through." But Beautiful will surely see us through-today, tomorrow, and always.