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Jazz Critic John Wilson Dies

John S. Wilson, The New York Times’ first regular jazz critic, died Tues., Aug. 27 at the Princeton, N.J. nursing home where he lived. He was 89.

Born in Elizabeth, N.J., Wilson grew up on swing and traditional jazz and began his writing career when bebop began taking over on 52nd Street in New York. Wilson would spend at least five nights a week on 52nd Street taking in the new music. Both listeners and musicians appreciated Wilson’s writing style, which displayed intelligent insights into the bebop sound based on a profound understanding of jazz’s past. Sonny Rollins named “John S.,” a song on his album The Bridge, after Wilson.

Wilson came to the The New York Times in 1952 with a master’s degree in journalism and with stints as an editor for both the newspaper PM and for Down Beat magazine under his belt. He became the paper’s first popular music critic and covered the mambo explosion at the Palladium and the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene in addition to writing about jazz. As The Times brought in more writers to cover pop music, Wilson was able to concentrate on the jazz and cabaret beat and appeared regularly in the paper until 1994.

Wilson also penned a number of books on jazz, including The Collector’s Jazz: Traditional and Swing (J.

B. Lippincott, 1958), The Collector’s Jazz: Modern (J. B.

Lippincott, 1959) and Jazz: The Transition Years,

1940-1960
(Irvington, 1966).

Wilson is survived by his third wife, Mary Moris Schmidt, two sons from his second marriage, two of Schmidt’s sons and two grandchildren.

Originally Published