Early in his career, Carisi was a member of Herbie Fields's Orchestra (1938–1943) and Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band. After the war he worked with Ray McKinley, Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnet, Urbie Green, and Benny Goodman, among others and studied with acclaimed composer Stefan Wolpe.
His minor-blues composition "Israel" was quickly recognized as a unique jazz classic after it was recorded by Miles Davis at the sessions which later became known as the Birth of the Cool. Other notable versions have been recorded by Bill Evans, and the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. Another well known Carisi piece, "Springsville", was recorded by Miles Davis as arranged by Gil Evans on the classic album, Miles Ahead.
In 1957 he arranged the music for Urbie Green's album, All About Urbie Green. He shared an album with Cecil Taylor that was released as Into the Hot under Gil Evans' name for Impulse! in 1961, and arranged Marvin Stamm's 1968 album Machinations.
- Miles Davis & Gil Evans Orchestra: Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957)
- Gil Evans: Gil Evans & Ten (Prestige, 1957)
- Gil Evans: Into the Hot (Impulse! Records; 1961)
- John Carisi, Eddie Sauter, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe: Counterpoise (hat(now)ART; 2000)
- Hentoff, Nat: Liner Notes to Into The Hot (Impulse!, 1961)
- Morton, Richard & Cook, Brian: The Penguin Guide To Jazz on CD, Second Edition, 1994 & Sixth Edition, London, Penguin, 2002 ISBN 0-14-051521-6
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