‘Tis Autumn, The Search For Jackie Paris (2008)

by | Jul 20, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

‘Tis Autumn, The Search For Jackie Paris (2008)

Director: Raymond De Felitta
Studio: Outsider Pictures (no catalog number)
Video: 16:9 widescreen color/B&W
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English
Extras: Extended Interviews, Commentary, Trailer, Concert Footage, Photo Gallery
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ****

Singer Jackie Paris has been described as “the greatest voice you never heard.” He won the Downbeat magazine critics poll as best new jazz singer in 1953. Vintage photos from the late forties and fifties show Jackie Paris in the company of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Cole and the like. He was a favorite of Sarah Vaughan and Thelonius Monk; in fact, in 1948 he was the first singer ever to record Monk’s seminal tune “Round Midnight,” the de facto jazz anthem, and a side that has become one of the most highly sought after jazz records among collectors. Even Frank Sinatra would proclaim that Jackie Paris was his favorite singer. Jackie Paris was the talk of the town, apparently a real ladies man and the next big thing, selling out performances wherever he played, like the legendary Onyx club in Manhattan, where he sold out shows for a record twenty-six straight weeks. Poised on the brink of superstardom, MGM records abruptly and inexplicably canceled his contract, and he disappeared into complete obscurity.

Director Raymond De Felitta was a jazz musician in the early nineties, and while on his way to a gig in LA, heard a song that captured his imagination. It was called “Paris In Blue,” and the singer, who identified himself as Jackie Paris was telling the audience about why he had the blues and how they really felt. Infatuated with the tune, De Felitta eventually discovered that the record was by Charles Mingus, and that the singer was actually named Jackie Paris, but couldn’t find any other information about him. One day while in a Tower Records, he came across a CD by Jackie Paris that had been misfiled under another artist. Excitedly, he rushed home and tore open the packaging, hoping to find out any tidbit of information he possibly could on the mysterious artist. Unfortunately, the CD was a Japanese reissue, and all the liner notes were in Japanese! He then looked up Jackie Paris in an encyclopedia of jazz, and discovered that Jackie Paris had died in 1977. While his further research on the singer uncovered much about who he was and the company he kept in his brief period in the limelight, it came to a complete dead end after the mid sixties – it was as if Jackie Paris had completely vanished.

Then one day, years later in 2004, De Felitta was browsing through the jazz club listings in the New Yorker magazine, when something incredulous caught his eye: it was a concert date listing for Jackie Paris – longtime associate of Charles Mingus – performing at the Jazz Standard club in New York! How could this be possible, and where had Jackie Paris been all these years? Come to find out, Jackie Paris was indeed alive, now 79 years old, and this engagement in New York was the beginning of his long planned comeback.

This lovingly-made documentary film from Outsider Pictures captures the story of Jackie Paris through anecdotes from a veritable who’s who among artists, club owners, musicians and critics from throughout the jazz world. There’s plenty of new footage of Jackie Paris’ comeback performances, but there’s also archival footage and photos that tell the story of the man and help to solve the mystery of how such a prominently rising star could almost completely vanish for four decades. And there’s a lot of interview footage where Jackie Paris tells about his days with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Pud Powell and other greats from the emergence of the bop era. Touring his apartment is like visiting a shrine to Jazz – it was just astonishing to see the relics contained within those walls. And listening to him tell the stories of his days among the greats of jazz was amazingly interesting.

The DVD offers a pretty good technical presentation. Of course, for a documentary that mostly consists of archival footage and photos in combination with newly taped footage, the image quality is highly variable, but the DVD really looks pretty good, overall. And the sound quality is really pretty good, also, especially the more modern sections that were recorded in surround sound. Of course, the archival segments are all mono, but the sound quality is quite serviceable. This film – truly a heartfelt labor of love – was a true joy to watch, and will inspire a great deal of speculation about the man and his music, and his neglected place in jazz history. Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs


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