Sometimes it seems like Huxsie Scott has been an integral part of Savannah’s music community since General Oglethorpe threw his first dress parade. Truth is, she’s been the city’s premier jazz vocalist for about 40 years; it’s just hard to imagine our rich culture without her.
A charter member of the Coastal Jazz Association (from its earliest days as the Telfair Jazz Society), Scott, 58, puts an indelibly personal stamp on jazz, R&B, gospel and those timeless standards of the Great American Songbook. She’s equal parts Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin and CeCe Winans.
Still, Scott hesitates to describe herself as a jazz singer. “Not in the sense of being a straight Ella or a Sarah,” she says. “I have always been one to take the music and to interpret it based on my feelings, and my ideas on the meaning.”
As part of the 2013 Savannah Black Heritage Festival, Scott will sing Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the Jewish Educational Alliance on Abercorn. The “Future of Jazz” concert will also feature her granddaughters Markeya Relaford and Eyana Thomas, along with other young vocalists and musicians.
A Savannah native, Scott grew up in the house of her preacher grandfather. “Our family was a singing family,” she explains. “When we started singing, we had no choice: It was in the choir. And when we had our family get–togethers, everybody sang.
“I see that now with the grandchildren of my sisters and all that; we still do that. On holidays, it’s the big deal after dinner. We have a lot of musicians in our family, they’re all self–taught musicians, and they bring their instruments to whoever’s house we’re meeting at. We get together and we sing.”
Little Huxsie always wanted to be a singer; she rarely thought about anything else. “If I got sent to my room, that was no big deal,” she chuckles. “Because I would simply just give a concert to those thousands of people that I saw on the other side of my mirror. And that was fun for me.”
Growing up in the 1960s, she had a record player and a stack of well–worn 45s. And although she was fond of the R&B of the day (just like everybody else), she also kept up with crooners like Perry Como.
“I was actually into songs a lot more than artists,” Scott explains. “I can remember using a tape recorder and making my own arrangements to songs — recording over several times and doing a background for it myself.”
At 16, however, she gave birth to twin girls, and reality could not be denied: As a single mother, she had to get a real job. So Huxsie Scott went to college and earned a teaching degree. In her early 20s, she began teaching social studies education in area schools, and before her 2001 retirement, she’d taught at Savannah High, Beach High, Coastal Middle School and a half–dozen others. She was part of the inaugural faculty at Savannah Arts Academy.
In the ‘70s, she began to make her name as a distinctive, don’t–miss–her vocalist during a lengthy stint with a three–piece band called Flat Baroque. The group was a big draw at the White Heart Inn, which is now known as 17hundred90.
“I really got a lot of notoriety with that little combo,” she recalls. “Because we pretty much built the business up at the White Heart Inn to standing room only.
“I had never met Ben Tucker, but he had heard of me through word of mouth. When they started the Telfair Jazz Society, they decided that I would be the first singer for it.” She was also the first singer in the Savannah Jazz Orchestra.
Because of a heart condition, she doesn’t work full–time any more, but continues to put in hours as a chorus teacher at Oglethorpe Charter School. With 11 grandchildren and one great–grandchild, she’s got a full plate.
In recent years, Scott’s become a show–stopper at the Savannah Theatre, in such shows as The Great American Songbook, Jukebox Journey, Civil War Voices and Grease, and she lights up the stage whenever she sings with the Equinox Jazz Orchestra.
Given the hypothetical choice, Scott says, she’d rather have to quit talking than stop singing.
“For me, it’s more important than just being able to sing a song in tune, and sing it well,” she insists. “I communicate. My goal is to touch. Because if you don’t, what’s the sense in singing a song?”
Future of Jazz
Where: Jewish Educational Alliance, 5111 Abercorn St.
When: At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12