[Marxism] ‘Tis Autumn: the search for Jackie Paris

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 15 09:18:11 MST 2007

Jackie Paris, an Italian-American born in 1927 and who grew up in 
Nutley, New Jersey, was one of the most highly regarded jazz vocalists 
in the bebop revolution following WWII. He went on the road with Charlie 
Parker’s band for six months and was the lead vocalist on a session led 
by Charles Mingus for his Debut label. Named Downbeat’s Critics Poll as 
best new singer of the year in 1953, he seemed destined for stardom and 
commercial success. But he made his last record in 1960 and seemed to 
disappear from the face of the earth not much later. By the late 1970s, 
many jazz aficionados assumed he was dead.

Raymond De Felitta, the director of “Tis Autumn: the search for Jackie 
Paris” was one of them. While driving in his car one day about five 
years ago, he heard Jackie Paris on a jazz station and was transfixed 
just as many jazz fans were in the 1950s and just as you will be when 
you hear him performing “Time After Time.” Not long after he began 
tracking down information about and recordings made by the legendary 
artist, he discovered that he was still alive in March 2004. The New 
Yorker magazine jazz club listings mentioned that the 79 year old Paris 
was performing at the Jazz Standard, a major venue. After seeing him 
perform, De Felitta decided to make a documentary on the singer before 
it was too late. Although there was something of a Jackie Paris 
renaissance taking place, the singer was suffering from bone cancer and 
would die that year, three years before the theatrical release of De 
Felitta’s film.

On level, “Tis Autumn” is a detective story where De Felitta is the 
sleuth trying to uncover a major crime, namely why such a great artist 
never enjoyed the commercial success that he so richly deserved. On 
another level, it is a deeply touching story of friendship as the young 
film-maker and jazz pianist himself devotes himself to an admittedly 
problematic personality, as the film will reveal. Their relationship 
reminded me of the one between the fictional saxophone player Dale 
Turner, played by Dexter Gordon, and his young fan in the 1986 “‘Round 
Midnight.” Just by coincidence, Jackie Paris was the first artist to do 
a vocal rendition of the Theolonious Monk anthem in 1949.

Finally, on one more level “Tis Autumn” is the definitive statement on 
the clash between art and commerce in the jazz world. Ultimately, the 
film reveals that the crime that accounts for Jackie Paris’s commercial 
demise is none other than the marketplace itself, which turns everything 
into a commodity. When things are measured on the basis of their price, 
it is more often than not detached from its underlying value as the 
success of “Light Jazz” would indicate.


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