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Jose Melis, bandleader on Jack Paar's show

PHOENIX -- Former ''Tonight" show bandleader Jose Melis, who led the orchestra for Jack Paar and traded jokes with the talk-show host, died from a respiratory infection April 7. He was 85.

Mr. Melis died at Boswell Memorial Hospital in Sun City, his son, Michael, said Monday.

As a bandleader for the ''Tonight" show from 1957 to 1962, Mr. Melis became a TV personality whose Cuban accent endeared him to many fans.

''He loved the audience; he was really a showman," said his daughter, Suzanne Golembieski, of East Hampton, Conn. ''He had a lot of charisma. You could see the audience warm to him."

Mr. Melis and Paar would establish the talk-show format that is being used today, his son said.

Jose Melis Guiu was born in Havana in 1920 and graduated from the Havana Conservatory at the age of 10. He immigrated to the United States when he was 16 to train as a classical pianist in Cambridge, Mass., and also studied in Paris and in New York City at the Juilliard School.

He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and led an orchestra that performed USO shows, where he met Paar. The two would perform together for about 15 years.

Their collaboration in television included variety shows on CBS before they landed the ''Tonight" show, which became ''The Jack Paar Show" in 1959.

Mr. Melis wrote the music for Paar's show theme, ''I-M-4-U."

Notable guests included President Nixon, for whom Mr. Melis arranged music when he came on the show to play the piano.

''Dad never told me whether he was a good pianist or not," Michael Melis said.

Mr. Melis went into semiretirement after Paar left the ''Tonight" show.

Mr. Melis appeared as a soloist with several symphonies, including the Boston Pops.

He lost some of his sight in the mid-1970s, and he moved to Arizona in 2003 to live with his son after living in Bronxville, N.Y., for 50 years.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Melis leaves a brother, Rafael of East Bridgewater, Mass., seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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