Peri was probably born in Rome, but studied in Florence with Cristofano Malvezzi, and went on to work in a number of churches there. He subsequently began to work in the Medici court, first as a tenor singer and keyboard player, and later as a composer. His earliest works were incidental music for plays and madrigalss.
In the 1590s, Peri became associated with Jacopo Corsi, the leading patron of music in Florence. A general feeling that contemporary art was inferior to classical Greek and Roman works led to them attempting to recreate Greek tragedy. The poet Ottavio Rinuccini was brought in to write a text, and the result, Dafne, though nowadays thought to be a long way from anything the Greeks would have recognised, is seen as the first work in a new form, opera.
Rinuccini and Peri next collaborated on Euridice. This was first performed on October 6, 1600, and, unlike Dafne, has survived to the present day (though it is hardly ever staged, and then only as an historical curio). The work made use of recitatives, a new development which went between the arias and choruses and served to move the action along.
Peri produced a number of other operas, often in collaboration with other composers, and also wrote a number of other pieces for various court entertainments. None of his pieces are performed today, and even by the time of his death his operatic style was looking rather old fashioned when compared to the work of younger composers such as Claudio Monteverdi. Peri's influence on those later composers, however, was large.