The film also features trumpeter Louis Armstrong (as Wild Man Moore) and jazz pianist Aaron Bridgers; both play music within the film. It was produced by Sam Shaw, directed by Martin Ritt from a screenplay by Walter Bernstein, and with cinematography by Christian Matras. Paris Blues was released in the U.S. on September 27, 1961.
On his way to see Wild Man Moore (Louis Armstrong) at the train station, Ram Bowen (Paul Newman), a jazz musician, encounters Connie Lampson, (Diahann Carroll), a newly arrived tourist, and invites her to see him perform that night at Club 33. Connie isn't interested but her friend, Lillian (Joanne Woodward) insists they go to see him. After Ram finishes performing with his friend Eddie (Sidney Poitier), he offers to take both women to breakfast. When Ram suggests that he and Connie go off and have a private breakfast together she is offended, and Ram is angered at being rejected. However Lillian, undeterred that Ram prefers her friend, pursues him and the two sleep together while Connie and Eddie spend the night walking around Paris.
Over the following weeks the couples grow closer. However Connie is angry that Eddie has abandoned America for France, insisting that the only way things can improve in the U.S. is if people stay and work together in order to change things, while Eddie is content to stay in Paris where there is less racism and he is able to carve out a career as a talented musician.
As Connie and Lillian's trip nears its end Lillian tries to convince Ram to enter into a more committed relationship and move back with her. Ram, aware that she has two children and lives in a small town, breaks off their relationship telling her he is dedicated to his music.
Meanwhile, Eddie and Connie declare their love for one another, and plan to get married. Shortly after, they argue when Connie asks him to try living in America for a year and he refuses. Their hearts broken by their respective lovers, Connie and Lillian make plans to return home early.
Before the women can leave, Ram attends a meeting with a record producer, Bernard, who dismisses a composition he has been working on as too "light." Bernard encourages Ram to take some time to study music, but Ram's hopes of being a serious musician have been dashed. Heartbroken, he tracks down Lillian, and agrees to move back with her. Connie, in a desperate last attempt to reach out to Eddie, follows him to a party where she tells him she is leaving for good. Unwilling to lose her, Eddie makes up his mind to return to America with her, but will follow in a few weeks.
At the train station, Ram is late and finally appears to tell Lillian that he has to stay in Paris, and is unwilling to give up on his music. Lillian and Connie depart on the train, and the two men head off together. As they leave, workers are re-papering a bill board, covering the advertisement of Louis Armstrong (Wild Man Moore) with an offer for Larousse.
While the original novel and first draft of the screenplay were primarily about interracial romance, United Artists demanded that aspect be changed, not believing the American public was ready for such a thing. The finished film briefly teases at the idea before abandoning it. Years after the release, Sidney Poitier stated "Cold feet maneuvered to have it twisted around - lining up the colored guy with the colored girl." and that United Artists had "chickened out" and "took the spark out of it."
It is rumored that Poitier and Carroll began their affair during production. The affair would last years ending when Poitier chose not to leave his wife.
Paris Blues is a soundtrack album by American pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington, recorded and released on the United Artists label in 1961 and reissued on Rykodisc in 1996 with additional dialogue from the film and the film trailer on CD-ROM. It features performances by Ellington's Orchestra with Louis Armstrong guesting on two tracks.
Ellington was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow awarded the album 3 stars and stated: "Although not a classic, Paris Blues (both the film and the soundtrack) is worth owning by jazz collectors". A review in Jazz Times by Stanley Dance, however, was quite critical of the release stating: "both movie and music, in my opinion, were disappointing examples of how too many cooks spoil the broth... for the main NYC sessions, no less than five drummers were brought in, who lamentably failed to swing the big band as the absent Sam Woodyard could have done all by himself. One of the few moments of truth occurs in the finale, "Paris Blues," when Johnny Hodges is briefly heard".
All compositions by Duke Ellington except as indicated
Recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, New York on May 2 & 3, 1961.
Duke Ellington – piano
Louis Armstrong - trumpet (tracks 3 & 9)
Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Ed Mullens, Ray Nance, Clark Terry - trumpet
Louis Blackburn, Lawrence Brown, Murray McEachern, Britt Woodman - trombone
Juan Tizol - valve trombone
Arthur Clark, Jimmy Hamilton - clarinet, tenor saxophone
Johnny Hodges, Oliver Nelson - alto saxophone
Russell Procope - alto saxophone, clarinet
Paul Gonsalves - tenor saxophone
Harry Carney - baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Harry Smiles - oboe
Les Spann - guitar, flute
Jimmy Gourley - guitar
Aaron Bell - bass
Sonny Greer, Dave Jackson, Jimmy Johnson, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach - drums
- "Take the "A" Train' (Billy Strayhorn) - 2:14
- "You Know Something?" - 0:24
- "Battle Royal" - 4:31
- "Bird Jungle" - 1:59
- "What's Paris Blues?" - 0:45
- "Mood Indigo" (Ellington, Barney Bigard, Irving Mills) - 3:15
- "Autumnal Suite" - 3:14
- "Nite" - 3:32
- "Wild Man Moore" - 1:49
- "Paris Stairs" - 3:05
- "I Wasn't Shopping" - 0:21
- "Guitar Amour" - 2:02
- "A Return Reservation" - 0:33
- "Paris Blues" - 5:53