Falling In Love Is Wonderful (1962)

Jimmy Scott possesses one of those voices that does me in — in a good way. His growth and vocal development were stunted by an affliction known as Kallmann Syndrome (delayed puberty) leaving him with a unique, gender-neutral singing voice. The first time I heard his high, reedy voice on CD in the mid-90s, I wanted to know the name of the woman behind such a mesmerizing sound! It took me a long time to reconcile the voice to the man.

FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL was meant to be Jimmy Scott’s big breakthrough in 1962, after many years of having his vocals incorrectly attributed to female singers, or uncredited altogether on the recordings of Lionel Hampton and other swing bands. The album was produced by Ray Charles on Charles’ own Tangerine label, and the arrangements are lovely, reminiscent of classic Nelson Riddle-style orchestrations that flatter both the songs and the singer. Upon the album’s release, however, an unscrupulous former manager insisted that Scott was still under contract to a competing label (Savoy) and Tangerine had to cease and desist release of the new album.

Scott attempted to record again in 1969 (the equally marvelous THE SOURCE), but again Savoy claimed ownership, so Jimmy Scott recordings were effectively embargoed for decades and his career collapsed. He worked as a hospital orderly and elevator operator for years.

The good news is that there has been a prolific second act to Scott’s life & career. He was “re-discovered” and managed to get honest deals with legitimate studios in the early 1990s, and he has recorded an eclectic smorgasbord of songs: everything from “Over the Rainbow” to “Nothing Compares 2 U.” His thwarted 1960s albums were finally re-released to great acclaim — with good reason, as FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL proves.

As one would expect, though, his voice had aged into a somewhat different instrument over the course of those 20+ years. The tone remained much the same: clarion, throbbing, insistent — but with each successive Scott release since 1992 (there have been MANY; it’s hard not to sense him racing to catch up for the lost time) the voice grows frailer, the warble wider. Those affectations don’t hurt my love for the songs or the man singing them, but they certainly shade the experience of hearing him sing. When I finally managed to hear him perform live at Lincoln Center last winter, I realized with regret that I had waited too late. As pleasurable as it was to show the man respect with applause, his performance with a young jazz combo was reduced to nearly unintelligible wailing, with not much strength or tone remaining.

FALLING IN LOVE…then, is really the best chance to listen and wonder “what could have been.” Scott is in fantastic voice here, and it’s amazing to hear what the singer Nancy Wilson heard, and indeed mimicked in her own recordings. To listen to Jimmy Scott’s inspired broken-syllable phrasings is to hear the blueprint for Wilson’s inimitable style. FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL is an album that is as good an introduction to Jimmy Scott as you are likely to find (though I’d be happy to recommend many others). If you don’t know him already, suffice to say you should acquaint yourself.

Originally published at http://jdftunes.blogspot.com.

“Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” — Tony Kushner