Music legend Jill Scott doesn’t live in Philadelphia anymore, but there’s a part of her that never left her native city behind.
“My heart is still there,” Scott said, calling from her current base of New York City. “I wouldn’t be who I am without Philadelphia.”
Scott returns today to headline a concert at the Theatre of Living Arts (TLA) on South Street. The sold-out performance is a benefit for trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, a fellow North Philadelphian who went on to collaborate with names like Michael Jackson, Jay Z and Erykah Badu and was recently stricken with the intestinal disease diverticulitis.
It was on the 1970s streets of North Philly that Scott received her preliminary musical education, where she first heard the music that would shape her life. She laughs when reminiscing about coming of age to the sounds of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Millie Jackson and Aretha Franklin.
“My mother would play those albums and then we would have these amazing block parties,” she said. “There is nothing like that music.”
It was the communal scene that really touched Scott. “Everybody would bring out their vinyl and our neighbors would play songs that either people loved or rarities we all should know but hadn’t heard yet. I loved music throughout childhood.”
Scott, 44, took her love of music and made it into a career.
Her 2000 debut, “Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1,” went platinum, and her next two albums, “Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2” (2004) and “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3” (2007), reached gold status. Her talents were recently introduced to a whole new audience when she contributed to “The Hamilton Mixtape.”
“It’s been an amazing career,” Scott said. “I’ve had so much success. I get to make the music that I want to make.”
That’s exactly what she did on “Woman,” her latest album, which veers from R&B to country to Philly soul to pop.
“I just wanted to make this great big stew of music,” Scott said. “I’m not worried about the commercial aspect. I focused on the artistic aspect. I just wanted to make a record filled with stories. I don’t want songs that sound the same. There’s country sounding songs on this album. There are songs that are like classic R&B. It’s the kind of music that I love. I love the simplicity of a country song in terms of story. But then I’m an old girl who loves vinyl. I love to hear the crackle of vinyl. I love string arrangements. I love the unpredictability of music.”
It’s no surprise Scott enjoys eclectic music, since the charismatic diva is also a very versatile singer. From groove-laden ballads to anthems to clever and catchy jingles, her finest songs are all relatable. The other common denominator is simplicity.
“I think that’s an important thing,” Scott said. “A song can be complex sonically, but lyrically it doesn’t have to be complicated to connect. Look at Aretha Franklin. She is the queen when it comes to direct songs people can grab a hold of. How about this? ‘Rock Steady, Baby.’ When she sings that, who doesn’t love it?”
It’s hard to believe 17 years have passed since Scott’s debut album dropped — for the singer as much as anyone.
“I know,” Scott said. “It’s crazy that time has flown by like this. I crack up over it and I’m also bewildered. Can you believe this? A woman came up to me and said, ‘I gave birth to my son with your music in the background.’
“I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ But she wasn’t. It was surreal. She was 27. She listened to me in high school and now she’s a grown woman with a son and a job.”
The same can be said for Scott. She’s a grown woman with a 7-year old son and an enviable gig. “I’m well aware of how fortunate I am. How many people get to do what they love.”
Right now, she’s shooting for two things: making great music and peace of mind. Regarding the latter, Scott will not reveal where she resides.
“I’d rather not say,” she said. “People know too much today. It makes me feel better not telling you.”
But Scott will talk about music and what she wants to accomplish next as a recording artist.
“I want to make immediate music,” Scott said. “It’s like those Aretha Franklin songs. They grab you from the very start. I want to paint a picture with words, connect with the audience on a sonic level with future albums and then engage them when playing live. It’s a beautiful balance I’m going after.”
And then there is Philly.
“I love it back home,” Scott said. “So much great music has come out of Philadelphia. So much great jazz. I love the jazz that’s come out of Philly. It’s an amazing place and there is no place like it.”