Singer Jackie Paris was once the toast of the “bop” scene in New York City, recording with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus. What seemed like the beginning of a promising career soon fell prey to a series of missed opportunities, failed comebacks, and bad luck. Paris seemed doomed to permanent obscurity.
And this would have been the case, had not aspiring jazz musician Raymond De Felitta heard a recording of Paris on his local radio station in 1990. Intrigued, he sought more information about the vocalist, learning – mistakenly as it turned out – that he had died in 1979. Further investigation revealed that Paris was, in fact, alive and living in New York. De Felitta embarked on a 14-year odyssey to determine what had happened to this talented musician. The end result is “’Tis Autumn – The Search for Jackie Paris.”
Through testimonials from fellow musicians and jazz historians, De Felitta learned of Paris’ discovery by Harry Mills, his rise during the genesis of bop during the 1940s, through his signing by MGM and being named Singer of the Year by Downbeat magazine in 1953.
It’s around this time that recollections, both from Paris himself and his family members, become a little hazy. Paris was known to have quite a temper, as well as a huge ego, and he was dropped by MGM and often not invited back to venues where he’d performed. Subsequent auditions for Capitol Records and Decca where unsuccessful, and his album reviews were often mediocre. Paris eventually toured with his former wife, and got into teaching, but fame would forever elude him.
De Felitta’s devotion to his subject is instrumental in getting to the bottom of many aspects of Paris’ life, but it also blinds him to several things. For starters, many who knew the younger Paris testified to his violent tendencies, and his first wife said she left him after he beat her so badly when she was pregnant she almost lost the baby. Paris seemed to rub many people the wrong way, which isn’t quite the way to win friends in the industry. De Felitta’s assertions that Paris “deserved” success are off the mark as well. Nobody “deserves” success, and while Paris may have had a fairly heavy streak of bad luck, much of what befell him was of his own doing.