The Jazz.com Blog
May 10, 2009 · 0 comments
Thomas Cunniffe, an editor and regular contributor to jazz.com, is (among other things) our expert on jazz DVDs. Recently he discussed, in this column, several DVDs featuring Quincy Jones, and other reviews by him can be found here and here. Below he looks at DVDs celebrating two departed jazz artists who received very little recognition while they were still on the scene, saxophonist Teddy Edwards and vocalist Jackie Paris. T.G.
One of my ongoing projects is a collection of biographical and musical portraits of neglected jazz musicians. Each of the profiled musicians was an innovator and achieved some level of success, but never reached the higher ranks of the jazz firmament. With each musician, the central question was why didn’t this artist succeed?
The answers were as varied as the musicians. Some left the scene because of immediate responsibilities to their families, while others couldn’t deal with the harshness of the music business. Illness and substance abuse kept some away, and others were blacklisted for their political beliefs. Some artists walked away from their success, while others failed to get any attention despite multiple attempts.
2001’s The Legend Of Teddy Edwards (Image) and 2007’s Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris (Outsider) tell the respective stories of a bop tenor saxophone pioneer who chose to live and work in Los Angeles, and a singer / guitarist/ tap dancer who, after a promising start, failed to establish a long-lasting career. While both films do an admirable job of telling their subject’s life stories, neither film really answers that central question, why? On the Edwards documentary, the question is never directly raised, but we get a clue when Dan Morgenstern tells of his excitement of seeing Edwards live in New York for the first time—in 1964, not with his own band, but as a member of Benny Goodman’s orchestra! A link on the Wikipedia bio will take you to an Edwards interview where he emphatically states his dislike of performing in New York. There is also a detailed description in Ted Gioia’s book West Coast Jazz that documents Edwards’ long string of missed opportunities.
I can’t believe that the documentary’s director, Don McGlynn, didn’t ask the question, but I wonder why there are no answers, or at the very least, some sort of hypothesis. On the Jackie Paris documentary, there are a plethora of theories, but only Paris’ notorious temper and violent outbursts are investigated. Other theories posited by filmmaker Raymond DeFelitta include Paris’ perfectionist attitude, his printed lashing-out of a critic in Downbeat and—most remarkably—his refusal of career support from the Mafia.
As we’ve learned to expect from McGlynn, his film is beautifully shot, tightly edited and well-organized, with superb interviews that get right to the point. McGlynn maintains an objective viewpoint, and is only heard off-screen asking occasional questions of Edwards. In contrast, DeFelitta narrates and appears on-camera, documenting his friendship with Paris, and even making comments about his film in progress. The film wanders around aimlessly, picking up and dropping out storylines in a confusing manner. For example, DeFelitta and writer Will Friedwald travel to a New Jersey record fair to look for Paris’s rare 1949 recording of “Round Midnight”—the first vocal version of that standard. The sequence goes on for several minutes and they don’t find the record. Yet, it appears on the soundtrack, so DeFelitta must have found it. We never find out how. [There’s another storyline regarding Paris’ family that drops in and out of the film, but I won’t spoil that one for you.]
For me, the highlights of McGlynn’s film are the full-length uninterrupted performances of five Edwards originals played by his working quintet. While DeFelitta uses voiceover interviews over the Paris performances in the main film, both a vintage clip and a late performance are presented in full as supplements to the DVD. DeFelitta also includes an hour of full-length interviews and the theatrical trailer. There are fewer DVD extras on the Edwards disc, but they include another complete musical performance, plus Edwards reading an original poem from the 1960s and singing an original song with his own lyrics. Unfortunately, the piano Edwards plays is horribly out-of-tune and it’s difficult to hear the words to the song. A better-authored DVD would have included optional subtitles. That is one area where the Paris disc is better, and in a few places, the subtitles clear up some quickly-said and poorly-recorded interviews.
Teddy Edwards lived to see the premiere of the McGlynn film, but Jackie Paris died during the making of DeFelitta’s documentary. Neither artist has an abundance of their recorded work available on CD (and the soundtrack to the Edwards film is now out-of-print). DeFelitta’s film—a new release on DVD—could have a positive effect on the legacy of Jackie Paris, so it must be recommended, warts and all, with the hope that newly-remastered CDs will follow. As for the McGlynn film, it’s recommended without reservation with my personal advice to pick up Edwards’ CDs while they’re still available.
THE LEGEND OF TEDDY EDWARDS 85 miinutes. With Teddy Edwards, Ernie Andrews, Clora Bryant, Dexter Gordon, Dan Morgenstern, Kirk Silsbee, James B. Smith, Larry Nash, Wendell Williams, Gerryck King, Teddy Edwards, Jr. Performances featured: “L.A. After Dark”, “Regina”, “Takin’ Off”, “Sunset Eyes”, “I’m So Afraid Of Love”, “At The La Villa”. Directed by Don McGlynn. Image DVD 1504
‘TIS AUTUMN: THE SEARCH FOR JACKIE PARIS 99 minutes. With Jackie Paris, Raymond DeFilitta, Norman Bogner, Joe Franklin, Billy Vera, Howard Rumsey, Will Friedwald, Harlan Ellison, Ruth Price, Gene Davis, Billy Taylor, Mark Murphy, Ira Gitler, Terry Gibbs, James Moody, Teddy Charles, Peter Bogdanovich, Frank Whaley, Nick Tosches, Phil Schaap, Ray Passman, George Wein, Helen Cafone, Joan Paris, Jeanie Paris, J.D. Ehrhard, Francois Zalacain, Armen Donelian, Jack Kleinsinger, Barry Newman, Anne Marie Moss, Lorraine Condos, David Grausman, Sheryn Goldenhersh, Stacy “Sissy” Paris, Michael Paris. Directed by Raymond DeFilitta. Outsider (no catalog number).
This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe.