Many performers have a signature song — one tune they can inhabit so thoroughly that they make it their own. The remarkable Jimmy Scott, on the other hand, achieves that goal virtually every time he opens his mouth onstage.
While Scott’s ethereal voice –the result of a genetic disorder that prevented the ordinary change at puberty — no longer soars to quite the heights it once did, his uncanny, behind-the-beat phrasing still makes every song an adventure. As such, even though virtually all the material performed at this intimate gig was familiar, it often took a good while to discern exactly where Scott was going with individual songs.
Not that it was a chore, however. Scott and his crackerjack band, the Jazz Expressions, kept up a winning, flirtatious rapport that entranced the packed house from the first notes of his blissful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” That uptempo opener, culled from his new Fantasy disc “Mood Indigo,” would cushion the blow he dealt with some of the tearier tunes that followed.
That spell was headiest on Scott’s most melodramatic choices, including a halting “Imagination” and a version of Duke Ellington’s “I’ve Got It Bad, and That Ain’t Good” that struck a balance between the roadhouse and the opera house. The singer, just weeks past his 75th birthday, proved every bit as capable of handling the twists and turns on his own — as borne out by a mid-set stroll through “Time After Time,” on which his only accompaniment was Michael Kannan’s minimal piano melody.
The diminutive Scott belied his frail appearance by doing a 180-degree turn with a version of “Pennies From Heaven” that saw him follow musical director Hilliard Greene’s walking bass line with a loose-limbed gait — finding a heretofore unimagined degree of funk in that chestnut.
Scott topped off the rather short set by taking on the Sinatra-popularized classic “All the Way” — and even in the heart of New York, New York, he took full possession of every note.