Meet music's crucial missing link

Jimmy Scott | Jazz Cafe, London
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The Independent Culture

He is the missing link in soul music history - fêted by Ray Charles, worshipped by the late Marvin Gaye, loved by Madonna. His voice - and probably his unique phrasing, too - is the result of the hereditary hormonal deficiency Kallmann's syndrome. It arrested his growth at 4ft 11in, prevented the onset of puberty and gave him the sound of an eternally wide-eyed child. No surprise to learn that David Lynch loves him: Scott's is the kind of voice you'd expect to hear in the darkest recesses of Twin Peaks, a freakish accident of nature, the tarnished angel who fell to earth.

He is the missing link in soul music history - fêted by Ray Charles, worshipped by the late Marvin Gaye, loved by Madonna. His voice - and probably his unique phrasing, too - is the result of the hereditary hormonal deficiency Kallmann's syndrome. It arrested his growth at 4ft 11in, prevented the onset of puberty and gave him the sound of an eternally wide-eyed child. No surprise to learn that David Lynch loves him: Scott's is the kind of voice you'd expect to hear in the darkest recesses of Twin Peaks, a freakish accident of nature, the tarnished angel who fell to earth.

It is the day after his 75th birthday, but the man whose talent has often been a curse as much as a blessing is remarkably free from the airy detachment common in a performer of his age. Drink, personal tragedy and an uncomprehending music business have insured that for much of his career Scott has remained a secret known only to the cognoscenti. But now, as he enjoys the fruits of a rediscovery that is 10 years and five albums old, his expressiveness is matched by humility, genuine delight and rapt wonder at being given the chance to blossom anew.

The piano, drums and double bass trio that accompanies him is never quite able to keep in line with the unfettered swoops and precise inflections that he brings to venerable standards. That is only to be expected - the freewheeling sense of time that once caused Charles Mingus to desert a Scott recording session is as keen as ever. On "I Got It Bad" he soars heavenward, then drops back to earth, hammering out each syllable of the word "sen-ti-men-tal" like nails into the heart.

The voice alone casts a spell on the painstaking reinvestigations of "Pennies From Heaven" and a wondrously loopy but resplendent "Imagination", from the new album, Mood Indigo. But the pained and ecstatic postures he strikes bring an added sense of beauty and drama. Scott is not beyond clowning and utilising the performer's mask, but there's a wariness and fragility at the heart of everything he touches. It's the inverse of operatic grandstanding, but his emotionally ravished readings of "All the Way" or "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" feel as if they are wrought from the core of his being and life experience.

There were ghostly flashes throughout - the lissome ache and sighs of Billie Holiday, the gymnastic glee of Jackie Wilson - but to see and hear Jimmy Scott is to witness a one-of-a-kind phenomenon.

"Thank you, England, for Elton John," Scott said, modest as ever, having transformed "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" into a heart-stopping soliloquy. But in truth, neither Sir Elton nor the Giants of Tin Pan Alley could wish to have their wares in more delicate or sympathetic hands.

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