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Raymond de Felitta, director

Outsider Pictures DVD
5.1 Surround, 16:9, 1h40m, director's commentary, bonus features.,

Review by Steve Koenig

Jackie Paris is one of the more obscure famous jazz singers. A musician's singer, he sang for months with Charlie Parker's band. The Jersey-born Italian-American broke records for sold-out performances in the top New York jazz clubs of the '50s and '60s. Peggy Lee loved his work so much that she flew him out to Capitol Records in Hollywood and even paid for a full orchestra for his audition. Lenny Bruce was a great supporter. Paris is perhaps best known for his performance in Charles Mingus' "Paris In Blue," a bit of beat meets jazz.

I had never heard of Jackie until maybe twenty-five years ago, when my then-roommate, the kind who liked the Ella songbooks but couldn't stomach her live, rummaged one up. Even in the present era of reissues of never-popular albums, Amazon lists just a few in-print Jackie Paris discs, the majority of them expensive imports.

Questions remain: Why have so few people heard of Jackie Paris? Why did he seem to have all the right stuff, yet never made it big? Why had so many reported his 1977 death when he was still alive? This is the premise and structure of the film, and the story unfolds the way a great film thriller does.

The viewer first sees a Webcor radio with a voice saying, "In jazz, the beat's the thing," followed by a reporter asking Leonard (I assume Leonard Feather) why has Jackie Paris been "kept under wraps?"

Interviews with musicians are intercut with those of family members and loved ones, not to mention plenty of the horse itself: Jackie Paris. Among the others interviewed include Billy Taylor, Mark Murphy, Peggy Lee, James Moody, Anne Marie Moss, Joe Franklin, plus all of Paris' wives. These in turn are intercut with fascinating stills of newspaper and trade articles, 78 records and LP jackets, posters and many, many personal photos.

The film itself is musical in its rhetoric, and that is its power. Even folks with no interest jazz singers will find this an enthralling human-interest story. Music-lovers, of course, will find even more riches. The more evidence presented, the curiouser the mystery becomes. Performing as a tap dancer at the age of eight. Talk of enemies, lack of "killer instinct," Mafia problems. As it unravels, so do aspects of Paris' life, all leading to a cinematically satisfying conclusion.

This should be an automatic choice for Independent Lens or another show on PBS, although the mystery aspect here should make this indie box office boffo, as they used to say in the trades.

Features include a few songs of Jackie Paris's final club performance (March 2005) at the Jazz Standard. a 1949 film of his band in costume singing "Mexicali Rose," extended versions of interviews which were necessarily abbreviated in the film, all of them worthy, and a feature-long director's commentary.


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