These four recordings show why the classics are, indeed, classic.
The Fabulous Songs of Jimmy Scott
Jimmy Scott had a hard life. Raised as one of 10 children, his mother died when Jimmy was 13, and he and his siblings were split up and sent to foster homes. Scott also suffered from Kallman's syndrome, which prevented him from going through puberty. He never grew past 4-foot-11, and his voice never changed. But it's that voice that makes Scott so remarkable. When you first hear him sing, you simply can't believe it's not a woman or a child. But Scott's no novelty act. Get beyond the oddness of the high-pitched voice, and you'll hear what really matters: that Scott's vibrato-soaked warble posits human frailty as surmountable, and even triumphant. Nowhere is this clearer than on this Savoy Classic Masters rerelease. Part Nat King Cole, part Billie Holiday (who was a Little Jimmy fan), Scott's interpretation of every lyric here is delivered with heartrending emotion. The spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is particularly affecting given Scott's history, and other wrenching songs include "I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over" and "Once." On "If I Ever Lost You," Scott manages to convey exactly the feeling of loss before it even happens, sorrow hovering over every note. The arrangements are string-heavy to the point of intrusion--who needs weepy strings when you have an interpreter like this?
>> Jimmy Scott plays Zanzibar Blue Wed., May 7-Sat., May 10, 9pm and 11pm all nights. $30-$35. Broad and Walnut sts. 215.732.4500. www.zanzibarblue.com
John Pizzarelli Trio
Live at Birdland
Once you're done crying with Little Jimmy you can cheer yourself up with this two-CD live set by one of the greatest--and happiest--champions of standards, John Pizzarelli. Son of legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (who played on Fabulous Songs), Pizzarelli is a man on a mission to convince you standards are cool. His unaffected voice and tuneful guitar are the opposite of gloomy Chet Baker/Billie Holiday-melancholy romance. But don't be fooled by the sobriety. The interpretations are just as keen. This live show allows bassist Martin Pizzarelli and pianist Ray Kennedy to flex their considerable jazz muscles in numerous solos, and it includes John Pizzarelli's winning commentary. He comes off as the JFK of standards advocacy: eloquent, polished and completely charming. Of the 36 songs, some of the best include the trio's interpretation of the comic song "Rhode Island," which rivals Blossom Dearie's rendition; "They Can't Take That Away From Me"; a virtuosic "Stompin' at the Savoy"; and the instrumental "Tea for Tatum," co-written by Kennedy and Pizzarelli, that almost gives late, great pianist Art Tatum a run for his money. This must've been one hell of a live show. I'm guessing the CD is the next best thing.
Mary Ellen Desmond + Meg Clifton
Peggy Lee/Rosemary Clooney Tribute
If you don't make it to any of the Jimmy Scott shows--and I don't know what your excuse could possibly be--the release party for this CD should be great fun. A tribute to Lee and Clooney, arguably two of the greatest standards interpreters, this album features some of the best songs ever written--Cole Porter's "It's Alright With Me," "Fever," Rodgers and Hart's "Lover," and "Why Don't You Do Right"--and Desmond and Clifton are certainly up to the task. A fixture on the local jazz scene, Desmond leads the swing-focused Mary Ellen Desmond and Her Little Big Band, and it's no surprise she handles the material with confidence. More disarming is the considerable talent of relative newcomer Clifton, who sings in the band Big Swing Face. Desmond and Clifton surround themselves with some of the best, including trumpeter John Swana, pianist Mark Kramer and beloved saxophonist Larry McKenna, who played with Clooney. Along with bassist David Brodie and drummer Jim Schade, this is a group amply qualified to toast the two legendary vocalists, and if the live show is as enjoyable as the CD, you're in for a treat.
>> CD release shows Fri., May 9 and Sat., May 10, 9pm and 11pm. Call for reservations. $10. Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom St. 215.568.3131
Jocko: Soul of a Man
URBAN CABLEWORKS OF PHILADELPHIA
Sadly, like so many of their R&B artist brethren, too many trailblazing DJs from the early days of rock 'n' roll are lost to history. One who should never be forgotten is Douglass "Jocko" Henderson, who at the height of his fame in the late '50s and early '60s drew huge audiences for his radio shows in NYC and Philly. A hipper version of Alan Freed (his biggest competitor at the time), Jocko was the nation's first rappin' DJ, and his on-air patter was mimicked by scores of imitators. He would open his show with "Hello, Daddy-O and Mommy-O, this is Jocko!" and would throw in lines like, "Eee-tiddlee-yock, this is the Jock!" More than that, he played records because he liked them, even if they weren't big chartbusters--and never the cover versions by knock-off artists. Thanks to his son, producer Douglass Henderson Jr., a radio personality at WDAS, there's now this freshly minted documentary to keep his memory alive. Unfortunately, there's precious little footage of Jocko himself, but there are some great memories from friends and admirers, and a good look at his Jetsons-styled crib in Mt. Airy, home to some of the city's most memorable parties of that time. The documentary, which has already scored a Telly Award, should be airing locally soon. Keep your eye on the TV listings. (Tim Whitaker)
Kindred the Family Soul
Surrender to Love
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014