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Singer with Mingus, Bird, Hamptonby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Jazz singer Jackie Paris died of bone cancer on Thursday, June 17, 2004 in Manhattan. He was 79 years old. Criminally under-recorded, Paris was one of the most impressive vocalists of the bebop era and the first to sing Bernie Hanighen's lyrics to Monk's "Round Midnight".
Born Carlo Jackie Paris in Nutley, New Jersey, on September 20, 1924, the singer came up in a musical family. One early influence was an uncle who played guitar with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. He broke into vaudeville as a child star and was inspired by fellow performers like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Before he was twenty years old Paris was working professionally in New York City as a singer and guitarist with Nick Jerret's band. After two years in the Army, he returned to 52nd Street and joined the circle of young bebop pioneers like Charlie Parker, with whom he toured the nation. Paris led his own bands regularly from 1947 through 1962, scoring a minor hit for MGM with "Skylark". In 1949-50 he worked with Lionel Hampton, and in 1953 Down Beat named Paris the year's best new vocalist. His gift for true jazz inflection led to praise by figures like Leonard Feather and Ella Fitzgerald. Sadly, his fortunes began to decline, and he soon found himself making the rounds of small clubs and resorts.
From the time he encountered Bird, Paris was not afraid to explore more modern jazz sounds. In 1957 he appeared on Modern Jazz Perspective (Columbia) with the Donald Byrd/Gigi Gryce Jazz Lab, and as late as 1974 he worked with Charles Mingus, recording "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" on Changes Two (Atlantic). In the 1960s and 70s Paris frequently worked with his then-wife, singer Anne-Marie Moss, although the one recording they made together was less than impressive. For most of the past twenty years Paris worked as an educator, leading master classes and conducting private lessons in Manhattan. His most recent recording was The Intimate Jackie Paris (Hudson, 2001), which found him still in possession of his keen chops. Paris' last public performance was at the Jazz Standard in March 2004, and he had been slated to appear at an Iridium gig this August.
Jackie Paris was preceded in death by his second wife, Joan. He had no children.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.