'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris is more than a bio doc. The film focuses on the sweet-and-sour life of a nearly forgotten jazz singer in the twilight of his years. But 'Tis Autumn goes farther—grappling with the clash between artistic integrity and compromise, and exploring what happens when an artist's ego jumps the leash. Never judgmental, the film lovingly traces Paris' life and contribution to jazz while exposing a painful truth: Not everyone who's talented makes it to the top and often for reasons that have nothing to do with determination or ability.
In Part 2 of my interview with Raymond De Felitta, the writer and director of 'Tis Autumn, he talks about Anne Marie Moss—Paris' second wife and singing parter—his first wife and long lost son, and a new film project that begins shooting in New York in the spring:
JazzWax: Did you find it chilling that Anne Marie Moss was as career-challenged as Paris?
Raymond De Felitta: Anne Marie Moss, Jackie's second wife, is a force of nature and an amazing vocalist. Very little of her singing exists on record, but she was a major talent who, sad to say, fell into the same black hole as Jackie. She loved Jackie and loved working with him, and was terribly faithful to him, too.
JW: What about Jackie’s first wife—who left him when their son was still a baby. In the film, his son seemed shattered.
RDF: Cissy and Michael are a different and darker matter. I admire them both for the rigorous honesty and extremely open manner with which they discussed their lives with me. Some people feel that my treatment of Michael was too invasive, but I didn't see it that way. He's a damaged man with a very honest view of his own life, and I respect his willingness to be seen for who he is. It's all part of a big, dark story—the pattern of family anger and abuse that Jackie grew up around and was unable to extricate himself from.
JW: At one point Jackie starts to cry when he's reminiscing with Anne Marie Moss. What happened?
RDF: Jackie, for a tough, old Italian guy, cried openly and often. He wasn't afraid to let you see him cry. I think at that time in his life, he was reassessing so much about his complicated journey that any reminder of the past could suddenly strike him very hard in the heart. He loved Anne Marie and felt responsible for their marital break-up. In some ways, even though each remarried, they never really broke up. A deep bond was still there.
JW: Tell me about the apartment in those Paris-Moss scenes.
RDF: Jackie had a small apartment in a tenement on the East Side where he lived for years before meeting Anne Marie. It became their home when they were together. What we didn't have room for in the film is what happened after they split up. He gave her the apartment. Though she eventually remarried and moved to Rhode Island, she kept it. Every six weeks or so, she came down to stay in the apartment by herself. It was as if a part of her life needed to remain in the place she had shared with Jackie. Last year the landlord succeeded in evicting her after 40 years and, shortly afterward, Moss drifted into senility. It’s as if in letting go of the apartment she severed much of herself.
JW: Did Jackie ever tell you what he would have done differently with his career if he had another shot?
RDF: Not really. He was proud of what he had accomplished and tended to look forward. I know he complained about bad management, but most of the people who tried to manage him found him too difficult to work with. Did he understand the role he played in the so-called bad management situations? I'm not sure he did. He tended to excuse his own inadequacies. How human.
JW: How did this film alter your view of life?
RDF: I learned that virtually every life is a novel—whether or not you’re an artist. We are all playing from scripts that seem to have been sent with us to this earth.
JW: In the film, you're hunting for a copy of Jackie's late-1940s pressing of 'Round Midnight for National Records. Did you ever find it?
RDF: As you know from the film, Jackie’s recording of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight is one of the first vocal versions of the song. It was recorded in November 1949 for National but now is one of the hardest Jackie Paris singles to find. In the film, we went from record show to record show trying to buy a copy—with no luck. Eventually, though, we did come upon a test pressing of it on eBay. It came from an estate sale of stuff belonging to the husband of vocalist Helen Forrest. The recording also can be heard on the EmArcy compilation LP, Advance Guard of the Forties.
JW: What's your next project?
RDF: It's a movie called City Island, a romantic comedy about a dysfunctional family living on an island neighborhood in the Bronx. It will star Andy Garcia and Marcia Gay Harden. I wrote the script and will direct it this spring in New York."
JazzWax tracks: Jackie Paris' 1949 recording for of 'Round Midnight can be found on an EmArcy LP called Advance Guard of the 40s. The date was produced by Leonard Feather and featured Eddie Shu on tenor sax, John Collins on guitar, Dick Hyman on piano, Tommy Potter on bass and Roy Haynes on drums.
Jackie Paris & Anne Marie Moss: Live at the Maisonette is the only LP they made together. It was recorded in September 1974, at the St. Regis Hotel's Maisonette Room in New York. They were backed by Mike Abene on piano, Harvey Swartz on bass and (believe it or not) Steve Gadd on drums.
The chemistry of Paris and Moss singing together is pure joy, and Paris' vocal arrangements are hip and pure early 1970s. To hear a bit of this record, go here, wait for the page to translate from the Japanese, then click on the LP cover.
From time to time, Live at the Maisonette appears on eBay and sells for around $20.
The pair also recorded with the Buddy Rich Quartet in 1974. Two of the tracks—Fish Fry and Caesar—showcase Paris and Moss together while Nothin' features Moss on her own. All three tracks are on an obscure 1994 CD entitled, Best of the Jazz Singers, Vol. 2 and can be sampled here.
Searching for Anne Marie Moss: So who was Anne Marie Moss? I know she recorded Let's Fall in Love as "Annie Moss" for the 1959 Roulette album, Maynard Ferguson Plays Jazz for Dancing. But for some strange reason the track never made it onto the LP. The track did surface recently on Maynard Ferguson: Dancing Sessions, a CD on the Jazzbeat Spain label, It combines two of Maynard Ferguson's Roulette albums—Plays Jazz for Dancing and Let's Face the Music and Dance—and Moss' vocal is one of three bonus tracks.
I also found the following entry in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada:
"Anne Marie Moss. Singer, teacher, b Toronto 6 Feb 1935. Except for lessons in breath control from Portia White in 1955, she did not study formally. She began performing as a child and sang jazz first in the early 1950s with the groups of Joey Masters and Calvin Jackson, two US pianists then living in Toronto.
She also sang with the dance bands of Ferde Mowry and Benny Louis and throughout the 1950s appeared on CBC TV variety shows. She performed occasionally with the jazz groups of Norman Symonds and Ron Collier and toured 1956-8 in Canada and the USA with the saxophonist Don Thompson.
In 1959 she joined Maynard Ferguson's big band in the USA, where she also sang with the Count Basie Orchestra and replaced Annie Ross briefly in the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
In 1961 she married, and began singing with, the US singer-guitarist Jackie Paris. The two appeared together until 1980 in nightclubs across the USA and made the LP Live at the Maisonette (Different Drummer 1004).
When they made a rare Canadian appearance at the Toronto nightclub Bourbon Street in 1976, Jack Batten wrote: 'Miss Moss' voice and attack... have grown more middle-of-the-road than they were in her earlier Toronto days. She seems to go in less for lofty flights and improvisations and concentrates more on plain old projection and communication. She's got all the equipment for that job—excellent diction, an intelligent awareness of lyrics, and a voice that's pure, professional and very assured' (Toronto Globe and Mail, 13 Oct 1976).
Moss resumed her solo career in 1980, recording the album Don't You Know Me? (Stash ST-211, issued in 1981) and appearing in concert, in nightclubs, and at colleges. She performed on several occasions in Toronto during the 1980s and taught voice privately and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York."
'Tis Autumn updates: For updates on theaters showing 'Tis Autumn as well as progress on the release of the DVD and possible soundtrack, visit Raymond's blog here.