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Rhino presents
Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (2004)

"Memories have a great place in my life...the memories of good times and memories of bad times. But you learn not to allow the bad times overpower the existence of your being."
- Jimmy Scott

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: January 10, 2005

Stars: Jimmy Scott, David Ritz, Kenny Scott, Adoree Colley, Betsy Jones, Nadine Walker,
Other Stars: Celotes Clark, Grady Tate, Dwayne Broadnax, Michael Kanan, Clifford Soloman, Bill Bentley
Director: Matthew Buzzell

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:18m:06s
Release Date: January 11, 2005
UPC: 603497037322
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

For every big league star in any form of entertainment, there's always a handful of supremely talented individuals that either continue to toil away in obscurity or have given up on their dreams. Jazz legend Jimmy Scott once found himself relegated to that "so close, yet so far" territory. In spite of connections with big names such as Ray Charles and Charlie Parker, it looked as though a once promising career would merit mere reference book footnotes and exist only in the minds of die-hard music junkies. However, thanks to a most unusual bit of aid from a world class tunesmith, Scott was given the kind of redemption one usually witnesses in the final reels of sports movies. Seven critically acclaimed albums and a Grammy nomination later, his rediscovery is one of those irresistible happily ending stories we don't see nearly enough.

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew examines the life and times of a gifted vocalist whose sweet, strong, spirited nature has sustained him through tragedy, record company politics, and lost love. Shrugging off emotional and physical adversities, he began to sing professionally in the 1940s, touring the tent show circuit. By decade's end, Scott landed a prime spot as a featured vocalist in future jazz legend Lionel Hampton's musical revue. At the start of the next decade, he took center stage on one of the vibraphonist's biggest hit singles, Everybody's Somebody's Fool, a top ten smash. Seeking individual notoriety, Jimmy went solo, recording for a number of labels including Savoy with glimmers of promise, but no lasting success. That appeared to change in 1962 when soul legend Ray Charles not only offered him a contract to his ABC-Paramount subsidiary label Tangerine, but also manned the boards as producer for what would become one of the defining albums of early '60s jazz, Falling in Love Is Wonderful. After years of hard work, Jimmy's career appeared to be heading in the direction he'd always dreamed of—until former label Savoy came calling, claiming Scott was still under contract. Faced with impending lawsuits, the Tangerine organization had no choice but to pull Falling off the shelves; it remained out of print for nearly 40 years.

If You Only Knew is one of the most deeply felt musical documentaries ever produced, aided by extensive participation from its subject, his surviving family members and longtime friends. Lovingly assembled by longtime fan Matthew Buzzell, it doesn't shortchange Scott's musical gifts, thanks to some choice concert footage filmed in Japan that include stellar renditions of Time After Time, Pennies from Heaven and an absolutely gut wrenching Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Being the kind of interpretive performer he is, Scott doesn't just sing a song, he inhabits it, poetically emphasizing the lyrics of this classic spiritual with outreached arms and emotive expressions. During much lighter moments, Buzzell catches Scott's charming off-stage persona in choice moments including a family reunion picnic, recalling the road life of earlier years with close friend Elie Adams, and a very touching meeting between the singer and a loyal group of Japanese fans; Scott is as much in love with them as they are him.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Mostly filmed in Hi 8 format, the expected shortcomings are visible (grain, etc.), but as is the case with most documentaries reviewed here, we have to grade on a curve considering the circumstances. So despite inconsistent visuals like "hot" video, light-deficient interview settings and such that can't be doctored up too much in post-production, this looks just fine to me.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There are two very similar soundtracks with the 5.1 winning preferential honors, having more presence in the rears, better low frequencies and a wider soundstage for the front speakers, particularly during the Japanese concert sequences.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Matthew Buzzell, Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Scott, Elie Adams, Co-Producer Brian Gerber, Sylvio Sharif Tabet, Jacob Bricca
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Short Film-Jimmy Scott: Alone Together
  2. Time After Time: "Jimmy Scott On Film" Essay
  3. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: An excellent commentary track hosted by director Buzzell is the highlight of the bonuses. One would think after the surplus of historical information provided by Scott, his family, and biographer David Ritz in the main feature, the well would be dry of things to talk about. Not so, as Scott takes the opportunity to flesh out such stories as his early days in the business, rubbing shoulders with musical bigwigs like Charlie Parker and other aspects of his career; wife Jeanine talks about their touching courtship; and Buzzell contributes a touching story about an L.A. premiere gone wrong that says more about Scott's character than any additional accolade contained within.

Alone Together is a short that incorporates much of the same visual styles seen in the finished film, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if it were conceived as a tool to bring in financing for the main project.

Jimmy Scott on Film is a nicely written essay by Brooklyn-based jazz historian Todd B. Weeks hailing the film, and a combination of vintage and latter day shots occupying a rather ordinary photo gallery complete the package.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

2005 may only be a few days old, but I think I already have a prime contender for top ten honors at year's end in Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew. A simply fantastic story of an amazing talent whose time finally came. Highly recommended.


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