Personnel: Little Jimmy Scott (vocals); Mickey Baker, Mundell Lowe (guitar); George Berg, Budd Johnson (tenor saxophone); Howard Biggs, Kelly Owens (piano); Terry Gibbs (vibraphone); Leonard Gaskin, Charles Mingus (bass instrument); Louie Bellson, Cliff Leeman (drums).
Little Jimmy Scott (as he was billed at the time) did his first important recordings for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy label in the mid-'50s, but while Savoy didn't always seem certain of what to do with this admittedly idiosyncratic talent, they certainly didn't want other companies getting their hands on him, and as a result landmark recordings Scott made for Atlantic and Ray Charles' Tangerine labels were either pulled from the market or never released due to Lubinsky's claims on Scott's recording services. The sad irony is that while Scott's recordings for Savoy were quite good, he generally did better work elsewhere under more sympathetic circumstances, and this collection of 16 of Scott's better sides for the label captures him in the early stages of his recording career, when he was young and still learning to master the nooks and crannies of his remarkable instrument. It also sounds as if Savoy's A&R staff were figuring out what to make of Scott, and while All or Nothing at All is a fine introduction to the material he cut for Savoy, in many ways it documents the downside of his work for the label as much as its strengths. The bizarre, melodramatic backing vocals on "Someone to Watch Over Me" all but stop the tune in its tracks, "Street of Dreams" sounds like an effort to sell Scott as the new Johnny Ace, and if there was ever a singer not cut out for a samba, "All or Nothing at All" proves it's Little Jimmy. But if this set has more than its share of flaws, they're certainly not the fault of Scott, and there are a handful of truly sublime moments here, too -- if you're not moved by Scott's performances of "Why Did You Leave Heaven," "Laughing on the Outside," or "Address Unknown," you obviously checked your heart and soul at the door somewhere and never picked them up. While no substitute for his more mature later work, All or Nothing at All: The Dramatic Jimmy Scott is a solid sampler of Scott's early years, and proves he was one of the most remarkable vocalists of his generation from the very start of his career. ~ Mark Deming