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Doc rediscovers ‘musician’s singer’ Jackie Paris

Citizen Staff Writer



Coming across the DVD, ” ‘Tis Autumn – The Search for Jackie Paris” feels like accidentally stumbling into one of those forgotten bars in a sleepy corner of some big city. A place that was so hip 50 years ago that nobody wanted to change it, until it was too late.

The DVD by documentary filmmaker Raymond De Felitta is filled with black-and-white photos of famous jazz musicians, singers and patrons in 1950s nightclubs. Lots of guys in skinny-brimmed hats and partying ladies in off-the-shoulder gowns. But what makes the disc so timely is its subject – jazz singer Jackie Paris.

In the early 1950s he was coming up in the business just as pop culture sophistication was going down (or moving to Las Vegas). Though his personal timing while singing was impeccable, his timing in the history books was terrible. It is pure tragedy how Paris was exceptionally good at a style of singing no young people wanted to hear.

Unable to keep up with the trends, to re-invent himself as a folk singer, power ballad singer or – worst case scenario – as a sad-eyed country singer, Paris began to fade away. His genius for improvising harmonic lines on smoky saloon songs was too subtle to survive.

But these days, good taste isn’t the dirty word it used to be. Plenty of aging boomers are beginning to wonder if there might actually be more interesting crooners around than Rod Stewart. Which means the engaging voice of Jackie Paris is due for rediscovery.

De Felitta is eager to help. While establishing the singer’s credentials (his real birth name is Jackie Paris), the praise he received from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and just about every other prominent bop-head, the filmmaker makes sure to include impressive snatches of Paris’ inventiveness as a pure jazz singer.

We hear the old recordings with new ears. Today’s jazz audiences are catching up to the sounds that Parker, Gillespie and Mingus were hearing. Paris was the only singer Parker would work with. In 1953, Downbeat magazine named Paris the best new male vocalist of the year.

High praise, indeed, but De Felitta interviewed Paris 50 years later, with Paris saying with only a touch of bitterness “I was called a musician’s singer, which became a curse.” What he meant was, none of the recording company execs thought Paris was commercial enough to have a hit record.

Searching for other reasons, the determined filmmaker goes rummaging through the singer’s ample collection of ex-wives and estranged children. Paris had a quick temper. He became arrogant, difficult to work with. And most damning of all, he refused to let the Mafia manage his career.

What we know for sure, a genius-grade talent was denied the opportunity to take root and grow. Popular tastes were changing from swing bands to rock bands. A perfect storm of conflicts chased away fate’s flirtations with Jackie Paris. In that, there is tragedy. But in ” ‘Tis Autumn – The Search for Jackie Paris” there is a seductive sampler of reasons to prowl the Internet for any forgotten copies of those old albums.

‘Musician’s singer’ Jackie Paris rediscovered in documentary

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