Paul Horn began playing the piano at the age of four, the clarinet at ten, and the saxophone at twelve. He studied the clarinet and flute at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, earning a bachelor's degree. He gained a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Moving to Los Angeles he played with Chico Hamilton's Quintet from 1956 to 1958 and recorded his debut album Something Blue in 1960. By now an established West Coast session player he played on the Duke Ellington Orchestra's Suite Thursday and worked with Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and others. In 1970, he moved with his second wife Tryntje and two sons Marlen and Robin from his first marriage to Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. He formed his own quintet and has recorded film scores for the National Film Board of Canada.