Paris was born in Nutley, New Jersey to his father Carlo and mother Rose. He had a brother, Gene. A vocalist, Paris toured with Charlie Parker. He also tap-danced from his youth and into his years in the US Army, entertaining his fellow soldiers. He is best known for his recordings of "Skylark" and "'Round Midnight" from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. He performed and/or recorded with Terry Gibbs, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd, Gigi Gryce, Charles Mingus, and others. He won many jazz polls and awards, including those of Down Beat, Playboy, Swing Journal, and Metronome.
Early life and career
Paris was a very popular child entertainer in vaudeville, a pint-sized song and dance man, who shared the stage with — and was encouraged by — such legendary black headliners as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the Mills Brothers.
After serving in the army during World War II, Paris, inspired by his friend Nat King Cole, put together a trio featuring himself on guitar and vocals. The Jackie Paris Trio were a hit at the Onyx Club on New York's 52nd Street. They played at the club for an unprecedented 26 weeks, perhaps the longest-running residency in the history of Swing Street.
The first song that Paris ever recorded was "Skylark", on one of two sessions made by his trio, for MGM Records in 1947. The composer Hoagy Carmichael once said of Paris' rendition that "the kid sings the hell out of it."
In 1949, Paris was the first white vocalist to tour with the famous Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He remembered an occasion when he actually did 78 consecutive one-nighters with the band. When he finally got off the road, he received an offer to join Duke Ellington's Orchestra, but at that time was too exhausted to take it. For years after, Ellington's son Mercer would tell him, "You're the only guy that ever turned down my old man."
Paris was the only vocalist to ever tour as a regular member of the Charlie Parker Quintet. Unfortunately, no recordings exist of the Parker-Paris combination (although the "Round Midnight" session mentioned above features Parker's bassist and drummer, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes), but there is a classic photograph of the two working together.
In 1953, Paris was named Best New Male Vocalist of the Year in the first ever Down Beat Critics Poll. The winning female vocalist was Ella Fitzgerald, who repeatedly named Paris as one of her favorites.
Charlie Mingus named Paris as his favorite singer and used him on several recording sessions over a period of many decades, including 1952's "Paris In Blue" (written expressly for Paris) and the Mingus classic "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" on the album Changes Two in 1974. Paris also worked extensively with the famous bassist, composer and bandleader in clubs.
Paris was the only singer ever endorsed by the legendary comic and 20th century iconoclast Lenny Bruce. Bruce not only shared the bill with Paris on many occasions, he shouted Paris's praises, saying "I dig his talent. The audience loves him and he gets laughs. He is toooo muccchhh!"
Other major musicians with whom Paris recorded include Hank Jones, Charlie Shavers, Joe Wilder, Wynton Kelly, Eddie Costa, Coleman Hawkins, Bobby Scott, Max Roach, Lee Konitz, Donald Byrd, Gigi Gryce, Ralph Burns, Tony Scott, Neal Hefti, Terry Gibbs, Johnny Mandel, and Oscar Pettiford.
Some of Paris's best-known albums include Songs By Jackie Paris (EmArcy), Jackie Paris Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (Time), and The Song Is Paris (Impulse!).
Paris recorded consistently through the years, from the 1940s up to and beyond 2000.
In 2001, Paris played to a standing room crowd — and to a standing ovation — at New York's Birdland jazz club in Times Square. He was virtually the only performer to have appeared at every incarnation of the famed night spot, from the legendary Birdland of the 1950s to the present.
Paris died in New York City.
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- 1954: That Paris Mood (Coral CRL56118, 10")
- 1954: Skylark (Brunswick BL54019)
- 1955: Paris in Swingtime (Wing 60004, recalled and reissued as Can't Get Started With You with a different cover)
- 1956: Songs By Jackie Paris (EmArcy)
- 1957: The Jackie Paris Sound (East-West Records LP4002)
- 1960: Jackie Paris Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (Time LP 70009)
- 1962: The Song Is Paris (Impulse! AS-17)
- 1975: Changes Two (Atlantic)
- 1982: Jackie Paris (Audiophile AP 158)
- 1988: Nobody Else But Me (Audiophile)
- 1989: Lucky To Be Me (EmArcy - Japan)
- 1990: Love Songs (EmArcy - Japan)
- 1994: Jackie Paris (Audiophile)
- 2000: The Intimate Jackie Paris (Hudson)
- Modern Jazz Perspective (Columbia, 1957)
(selected) Gold Disc Award for Lucky To Be Me CD 1989 Swing Journal Magazine
Best Male Vocalist Playboy Musicians & Critics Poll 1957-1961
New Star Male Vocalist 1953 Downbeat Critics Poll
JVC Town Hall 1987 w/ Hank Jones, piano
Newport July 6, 1957 w/ Joe Masters, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Jo Jones, drums
(selected) The Mike Douglas Show - 1970s The Tonight Show - 1960s The Steve Allen Show - 1950s
(selected) Baby Grand (NY) Basin Street (NY) Birdland (NY) Cafe Bohemia (NY) Cage Society (NY) Composer (NY) DownBeat (NY) Eddie Condon's (NY) Famous Door (NY) Fat Tuesdays (NY) Half Note (NY) Maisonette (NY) Onyx (NY) Royal Roost (NY) Sweet Basil (NY) Tavern on the Green (NY) Three Deuces (NY) Village Vanguard (NY) Alfonse (LA) Carmelo's (LA) Donte's (LA) Jazz Bakery (LA) Lighthouse (LA) Pasquale's (LA) Stables (Bos) Scullers (Bos) Cloisters (Chi) Bengazi (DC) Trumpets (NJ) Picasso (Phili) Jazz Workshop (SF)
(selected) Carnegie Hall (NY) Town Hall (NY) Civic Auditorium (Balt) Royal Theater (Balt) Boston Symphony Hall (Bos) Civic Opera House (Chi) Regal Theater (Chi) Joe Louis Auditorium (Detr) Paridise Theater (Detr) Bushnell Theater (Hart)
A documentary, Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, has been made.
- Official website
- Documentary website
- Jackie Paris: Biography
- PARIS, Jackie
- Obituary (New York Times)