Jackie Paris

Perfectionist jazz singer

In a letter written to his own agent, the fearless comedian and social satirist Lenny Bruce said, "My last gig in New York was a gas. The biggest thrill was working with Jackie Paris. He's as cute as a button and the audience loved him. I know he could be a star."



Carlo Jackie Paris, singer: born Nutley, New Jersey 20 September 1924; twice married; died New York 17 June 2004.



In a letter written to his own agent, the fearless comedian and social satirist Lenny Bruce said, "My last gig in New York was a gas. The biggest thrill was working with Jackie Paris. He's as cute as a button and the audience loved him. I know he could be a star."

Bruce echoed the feelings of most jazz and show-business people after they had heard the young singer and guitarist at work on the great American standard song repertoire. Ironically, by the time the enthusiastic Bruce conveyed those thoughts in 1959, Paris had already been on the road for a dozen years, and as early as 1953 had been voted "best new male vocalist" by the influential Downbeat magazine.

He was invited by jazz icons to perform and tour in their package shows, he secured a recording contract early in his career, packed the intimate jazz clubs of 52nd Street in Manhattan, and developed a cult following. Frustratingly, though, his status among his peers was never replicated in the wider, commercial marketplace. That perceptive judge of jazz singers, Will Friedwald, called the Paris voice "a raspy baritone - one of the most appealing sounds in jazz", which he thought made him "a bluesman in spirit". But he pointed out that Paris "spent his career in a fruitless search for an audience, though his failure to find one reflects more on the music industry than his own talent".

Jackie Paris was born in Nutley, New Jersey, to an Italian family rather more interested in professional boxing than music. He graduated from the local high school two years ahead of the pianist Al Haig, but had already taken his first showbiz steps, as a juvenile song-and-dance act in vaudeville. He claimed to have been seen by the legendary dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who said, "Jackie, you sure got rhythm, for a white boy."

His earliest musical heroes were the singers Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and Ella Fitzgerald. He did US Army service from 1944 to 1946, and it was Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers group who heard the young Paris sitting in at the Baby Grand club in Harlem and consequently "pulled strings" to enable him to get bookings downtown on 52nd Street. He became an increasingly familiar face along the street in the late Forties, running the house trio (with Red Mitchell on bass) at the Onyx club for a 26-week season, and securing other regular club bookings at the Three Deuces, and the Downbeat. By this time he was learning guitar which he played in a broken-rhythm, boppy style.

Indeed, the new bebop music filled New York's night air in the 1940s and Paris was invited to join the music's greatest star, the saxophonist Charlie Parker, on two tours - a package that also included Billie Holiday. She liked and admired the young Italian, but he noticed that she and "Bird" were at loggerheads throughout the tour. The first time Paris's name appeared on a record label was in 1947 - four tunes for MGM, including a version of "Skylark" which is now a collectors' item.

He also recorded some tunes with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, but these were never issued and the tapes are now lost. He was the first singer ever to perform the lyrics for the classic bebop ballad anthem " 'Round Midnight", and he was in the studios again in 1949, for the National label. That year he joined Lionel Hampton's Orchestra, taking over vocal duties from Little Jimmy Scott. In 1952 he recorded with Charles Mingus, and, needing his wages urgently to pay his rent, confronted the notoriously pugnacious bassist at his home. He got his money. "You're a tough little Italian," conceded Mingus, and the two would record together again, in 1974.

Things looked brighter in 1954 with the issue of his first LP collection, That Paris Mood, for Brunswick, aimed at the "straight" market. The lyrical trumpet star Charlie Shavers was added to the session, and the record company marketed Paris as "a singer's singer" and the product as "a new and exciting kind of Mood Music". But the huge commercial breakthrough still didn't happen. Peggy Lee was a fan and tried unsuccessfully to get Paris signed by Capitol. The bandleader Les Brown attempted the same thing at Decca, but was turned down by the producer and early jazz aficionado Milt Gabler.

In 1961 Paris married the Canadian singer Anne-Marie Moss, who had been with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra. Although that union was dissolved 20 years later they toured as a singing double-act in the Sixties and Seventies. It was a mutual admiration society, and this week a wistful Moss reminisced about her ex-husband being a

pure uncompromising jazz musician . . . he was a perfectionist who hired people for

their talent and expected to be given 100 per cent, nothing halfway.

She conceded that "while we had so much fun with the actual music, we were definitely not good business people". She added that Paris's sometimes prickly expectations of his colleagues did create some enemies. He would say candidly, "A pain in the ass, that's me!"

More recordings were cut in 1958, and a very classy one with his favourite sort of accompaniment (Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Roy Haynes) for Impulse, in 1962 (and re-issued in 1991). But his income often depended on holiday-resort bookings, and later on more and more teaching. He married a second time, but his wife Joan, an interior designer, died in the early 1990s. Albums had continued to appear in recent years, and his last ( The Intimate Jackie Paris) was recorded as recently as 1999.

"Frustration - the story of my career, I was always in-between, no momentum," he told an interviewer in 1996. But he kept his musical principles, always kept away from drugs, and thought of his voice as a musical instrument. When Paris appeared in New York earlier this year, Variety magazine reported that his voice still retained its "earthy passion and velvety lustre".

Campbell Burnap

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?