Jose Melis, 85, the bandleader for the "The Tonight Show" when Jack Paar was its host, died April 7 of a respiratory infection at a hospital in Sun City, Ariz.
Born in Havana, Melis trained as a classical pianist at the Havana Conservatory and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Drafted into the Army during World War II, he served as the musical director of the 40-member USO orchestra in New York City.
He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944 and chose to stay in New York after the war.
Melis met Paar while serving in the Army. In the mid-1950s, Paar hired him as musical director for a string of variety shows, including "The Jack Paar Show." Melis also wrote the music for Paar's theme song, "IM-4-U," with lyrics by Sev F. Marino.
In addition to leading the orchestra, Melis frequently joked with Paar on the air, a format that became the model for the late-night hosts who followed Paar.
Melis also conducted or performed with Frank Sinatra, Clark Terry and Tito Puente.