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Mares was born in New Orleans. His father, Joseph E. Mares, played cornet with the military band at the New Orleans lakefront and ran a fur and hide business.
Like many New Orleans cornetists of his generation, Joe Mares's main influence was "King" Joe Oliver.
About 1919 cornetist Abbie Brunies was offered a job playing in Chicago, and passed the offer on to Mares. (Brunies thought his New Orleans position of doubling driving a taxi-cab and playing music was more secure than prospects in Chicago.)
Mares established himself as a respected band leader over a group of wild and strong willed musicians, as The New Orleans Rhythm Kings (N.O.R.K.) became one of the best regarded bands in Chicago in the early 1920s.
In late 1924 Mares returned to New Orleans. He decided to play music on the side while taking over the running of his family fur & hide business. He ran the business well and with his prosperity purchased 3 homes for himself and his relatives in New Orleans' new suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. Mares's Metairie home was the site of a legendary jam-session in 1929 where Bix Beiderbecke and the other jazz playing members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra jammed with the local New Orleans jazz musicians.
Mares also ran a restaurant in New Orleans called "The Chicago Bar-B-Q". In the early 1930s he returned to Chicago where he opened up his "New Orleans Bar-B-Q" there. The "P.M. New Orleans Bar-B-Q" became a gathering place for Chicago jazz musicians and home to numerous jam sessions, which Mares occasionally joined in.
Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra
In January 1935 Mares played trumpet on, and fronted, a recording session with a band called "Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra" - a name that referred to the Friar's Inn club where the N.O.R.K. had first played in Chicago. The 1935 band included the white New Orleanian and N.O.R.K. veteran Santo Pecora on trombone, the black New Orleanian Omar Simeon on clarinet and the legendary Chicagoan altoist (who later gave up full-time music for the priesthood and became "Brother Matthew"), Boyce Brown as well as George Wettling on drums, Jess Stacey on piano, Pat Pattison on bass, and Marvin Saxbe on guitar. 
Last recording session
- Berendt, Joachim (1976). The Jazz Book. Paladin. p. 131.
- Sudhalter, Richard. Lost Chords. Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 225.