Saturday, December 15, 2007

‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet Bio-Pic Revisits Rise and Fall of Fabled Flash in the Pan

By the time that he was voted the Best New Male Vocalist in Downbeat’s 1953 Critics’ Poll, Jackie Paris (1924-2004) was already the toast of New York City’s café society. For this slight Italian-American with a velvety baritone voice had by then worked as sideman with Charlie Parker, toured with Lionel Hampton, and sung with many other leading luminaries on the bebop jazz scene.
However, despite subsequently recording and releasing a quintet of critically-acclaimed albums during the Fifties, Jackie’s promising career never quite took flight, and by the middle of the next decade he had all but slipped into obscurity. Why hadn’t his become a household name alongside Sinatra and Ella, and the other gifted singers of his era?
That is the task doggedly undertaken by ‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, a bittersweet bio-pic directed by Oscar-nominee Raymond De Felitta (for Bronx Cheers). In his quest for an answer as to why Jackie disappeared after being briefly revered, De Felitta exhibits little hesitation about showing his subject in a negative light.
The recently-deceased Paris was still alive during some of the filming, and participated in the warts-and-all documentary which shows him still plugging away as a performer at 79, desperate for a revival. But the movie is at its best when contrasting the vintage footage of Jackie in his prime with an assortment of accolades and speculative musings by friends, an ex-wife (vocalist Anne-Marie Moss) and jazz greats (James Moody, Billy Taylor, etcetera) about why fame had passed him by.
A good clue comes when we learn that he had a hard time controlling a temper which served to sabotage both his personal and professional lives. Women seemed to be his weakness, and he was apparently willing to go to his grave still deep in denial about the existence of his only child, a son born out of wedlock.
A posthumous probing of the psyche of a genius who could swing and sing, but was also prone to self-destructive behavior, daddy-o!

Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Outsider Pictures

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