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Little Jimmy Scott and Joe Pesci - "The Nearness Of You" - "THE UNSUNG BALLAD OF LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT AND LITTLE JOE PESCI" - RICH BUCKLAND'S EPIPHANY NOTEBOOK

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“THE UNSUNG BALLAD OF LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT AND LITTLE JOE PESCIRICH BUCKLAND’S EPIPHANY NOTEBOOK

If you’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed Joe Pesci’s monumental performance in the Martin Scorcese epic “The Irishman”, you have been reminded of his exceptional acting prowess. What many don’t know is that Pesci’s ambitions once included a desire to excel as a Pop and Jazz singer. In 1968 Brunswick Records, the label that gave us some of Jackie Wilson’s finest cuts, released an album titled “Little Joe Sure Can Sing”. Using the name Joe Ritchie, Pesci covered hits such as The Bee Gees classic “To Love Somebody”. It appears that Joe Ritchie was no Frankie Valli. He soon moved on to stand up comedy and then to his defining turn in the film “Raging Bull” as well as menacing roles in “Goodfellas” and “Casino”. The Gangster Hall Of Fame awaited but his love of a melody never deserted him. One of Joe’s earliest musical friendships was with a genuine legend of the jazz ballad, Little Jimmy Scott. The two had met at a club where Scott was working and they developed a lifelong affection for each other.

Jimmy Scott’s story is a haunting serenade unto itself. Born in Cleveland in 1925, Jimmy Scott’s early years were filled with dire hardships. At age 12, he was diagnosed with Kallmann’s Syndrome, a rare hormonal condition that kept his body—and his voice—from developing beyond boyhood. This illness left him with a high voice, unusual timbre and a height of 4 feet, eleven inches until age 37, at which time he sprouted another 8 inches. Seven months after the diagnosis, his mother, the sole guardian of Scott and his nine siblings, was killed in a car accident. Her children were separated and sent to live in foster homes. Scott’s sole desire was always to sing. He joined the vaudeville circuit of his day and met comedian Redd Foxx who suggested he go to New York where he landed a gig with Benny Goodman’s favorite vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Jimmy’s recordings with Hampton as well as saxophone genius Charlie Parker were hits but his name was never included on the recording credits. His talent was constantly exploited at the hands of some of the worst record executives of the day. Terribly disappointed, Scott returned to Cleveland and worked as a waiter, a dishwasher, a nurse’s aide and a hotel elevator operator, occasionally performing at local clubs. And then in 1984, a famed Newark, New Jersey jazz radio station WBGO rediscovered him. Little Jimmy Scott was 60 years old and finally on his way to a storied career.

One of Jimmy’s most famous recording sessions took place in 2009. With his health failing, producer Ralf Kemper surrounded him with gifted musicians, splendid arrangements, and special guests. The biggest surprise arising from those sessions was the guest duet on the exquisite “The Nearness Of You” with old friend “Little Joe” Pesci. Joe’s vocal skills had evolved along with his other artistic senses and the result of their reunion is emotional and captivating. The unique tenderness in Jimmy Scott’s huge heart is in clear evidence during this wonderful performance.

James Victor Scott left us on June 12, 2014 at the age of 88. He had been wed five times and overcame the odds in a game he was seemingly never destined to win.

An enlightening film titled “Little Jimmy Scott- If You Only Knew” is available through PBS.


By Rich Buckland 12/05/2019 04:53 PM

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