Saturday, October 15, 2005

Jackie Paris "found"

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Jackie Paris must be the most under-appreciated and unknown, but inarguably great, artist in the entire canon of jazz singing. Since the mid-1940s, followers of that scene have never ceased to wonder why he didn't "happen." He was supposed to have been a shoe-in, but somehow it was not to be. And so, he swingingly soldiered on for more than a half-century with a dozen or so one-offs on various record labels, and increasingly peripatetically in less than the highest of profile venues.

When I finally saw Paris perform "live" in L.A. in the early 1990s (on a double bill with Chris Connor!), he was absolutely at the peak of his powers. Leading me to wonder more than ever exactly how his career had failed to ignite the way that most jazz critics and Paris' fans had predicted all those years. Thus, I set out to track him down, did so rather easily thanks to the powers of the internet, and we began a correspondence that culminated in his sending me (unbidden) three Japan-only CDs that I hadn't even known existed.

And when Paris died on June 17, 2004 at age 79, only (it seemed to me like) days after giving what might have been his most well reviewed gig ever (see Variety 3/15/04), it was another one of those cosmic jokes that I always turn to for renewed proof of the randomness and meaninglessness of it all.

Fortunately, Paris did not die alone and forgotten like so many overlooked artists, but instead surrounded by, among others, several filmmaker-friends who had been looking after him for the last few months of his life.

When film director-writer-jazz pianist Raymond DeFelitta (Cafe Society, The Thing About My Folks) first approached the singer about featuring him as the subject of a documentary, Paris was straightforward and candid about his terminal illness. And so, the film, which did proceed apace, became not only a docu project, but, alas, a deathwatch as well. No doubt 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris will, in part, address the issue of his puzzling professional obscurity.

Early portions of 'Tis Autumn were shown last year at a NYC memorial service for the singer. Based upon a recent converation that I had with DeFelitta, I'm happy to report that the film, which contains both old and new performance footage along with Paris interviews, is on track and should be completed sometime early next year. The release of the film is to be accompanied by a soundtrack CD that will contain not only Paris classics, but some rare unreleased items as well.

Because of my personal eschatological leanings, I don't think that Jackie is necessarily looking down and smiling from some angelic aerie now that he is finally about to get his (overdue) due. Still, it is a fine and worthy thing that DeFelitta and Company are engaged in and I wish them the best of luck.

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1 comment:

Davei said...

My brother played bass with Jackie for a time, so I caught them at a hotel in Boston around 1976. I really enjoyed his singing and his ENERGY!

Thanks for the informative post. I didn't know he had passed away.