Jimmy Scott, who got his start singing with Lionel Hampton’s band in the 1940s and 1950s, may be the only countertenor in the history of vocal jazz. After Scott’s initial success with Hampton, his career was hamstrung for decades, the casualty of legal wrangling over album releases. What a sorry loss for jazz listeners. Eden River Records and producer Ralf Kemper go a long way to remedy this loss with I Go Back Home—A Story about Hoping and Dreaming, Scott’s final album, recorded in 2009, five years before Scott’s death in 2014 at age 88. By the time Scott recorded the album, his voice had settled into a wide vibrato and its timbre had thinned, but his elongated phrases, uncanny feel for time, and deft back-phrasing remained as gripping as ever. Nobody sings like this.

On the album Scott re-creates some of his better-known numbers like “Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool” (his only charting tune), “Motherless Child,” and “If Ever I Lost You,” each song showcasing an impressive visiting talent. Across the dozen tunes on the recording, Scott sings duets with vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini, Joe Pesci, and Renee Olstead, and six of the tunes feature solos by instrumentalists Joey Defrancesco (organ), Kenny Barron (piano), Arturo Sandoval (trumpet), Till Brönner (trumpet), James Moody (sax) and Oscar Castro Neves (guitar). (Moody and Neves also passed on before the album’s release.) The collaborators’ appreciation for Scott as an artist and person is palpable on each track and stands as a fitting tribute to the underappreciated singer. The album releases in the U.S. on Jan. 27.

May 2016 was a big month for singer-songwriter Gregory Porter. Not only did he launch Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note), which went on to garner a Grammy nomination this year, but he performed at the Philharmonie Berlin in Germany. The live recording and DVD of this concert, Gregory Porter: Live in Berlin (Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Films), came out only a few months later, an auditory and visual testament to Porter’s enormous popularity both within and outside of the U.S. The concert recapped most of the signature tunes from Porter’s three hugely successful albums—how thrilling it is to watch and hear Porter perform them live in the minimalist setting of a concert hall, his vibrant baritone ringing out like a church bell in the packed room. In introducing “Take Me to the Alley” on the DVD, Porter says that the song is about “those places that need illumination, elevation…and the people that live there.” He goes on to describe visiting those places with his mother to help minister to the needy. By the end of the first tune it’s clear that Porter is still working to illuminate and elevate—he’s just doing it in different alleys these days.  

Singer Kendra Shank and pianist Geoffrey Keezer named their new CD, Half Moon (Ride Symbol), after the globe lamp suspended above the grand piano at the house concert that spawned this live recording. The concert happened to be in the same apartment building where years before jazz legend Abbey Lincoln had given Shank the chart to “When Love Was You and Me,” a tune that Lincoln had written with trumpeter Thad Jones. That tune appears on the album, along with other similarly evocative compositions that lend themselves to the duo’s inspired improvisations. On “Life’s Mosaic” or “Alone Together,” for instance, Shank displays the imagination and expressiveness that earns her a spot alongside her mentors Lincoln, Shirley Horn, and Jay Clayton. The two will kick off the album at Mezzrow on Jan. 9.

Singer Rebecca Kilgore will be performing in town this month, providing New Yorkers with several opportunities to hear the Portland, Oregon-based Songbook specialist.  She plays both Midday Jazz Midtown at St. Peters and Mezzrow on Jan. 18, following this double-header with a show at Metropolitan Room on Jan. 19.

Kurt Elling will be touring with the Branford Marsalis Quartet during 2017 to promote Upward Spiral (Sony Masterworks), the first-time collaboration between the two jazz superstars. The tour comes to JALC on Jan. 20-21, with two shows and a free pre-concert discussion each night. Next month, Elling/Marsalis and Porter will square off for best vocal jazz album at the Grammy’s in Los Angeles.

The tip of the WinterJazz Fest iceberg: singers Amina Claudine Meyers and Dee Dee Bridgewater/Theo Bleckmann/Alicia Olatujan on Jan. 6, and Claudia Acuña and Becca Stevens on Jan. 7.

(Reprinted from the January 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)