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Dr. John “Doc” Wilson, of Murrysville, PA was born in Waynesburg, PA on July 9, 1926, and transitioned on May 12, 2023, at the age of 96.
John started playing the trumpet at age 12 and studied with Chauncey K. Libely who later became a staff arranger at WDTV (now KDKA). Libely taught John classical trumpet and introduced him to interesting harmonies at the piano, which sparked his interest in arranging.
John graduated high school at age 16 he joined the Dick Stabile Orchestra until he was drafted two years later in 1944. During this time, he taught himself jazz arranging by listening to the other instruments in the band and studying stock arrangements of the day.
Doc was drafted into General Patton's Third Army where he met Henry Mancini who showed him some interesting harmony at the piano he would later use in his arrangements. He ended up in Japan conducting and arranging for an Army band for over a year. After the war, he was accepted into the music program at New York University where he went on to eventually earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
While in New York, John performed, recorded, and wrote for Sauter-Finnegan, Benny Goodman, Pete Rugalo, Neil Hefti, Claude Thornhill, Elliot Lawrence, Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Raney and many others. He studied harmony and composition with Lennie Tristano along with Warren Marsh and others. John became one of the most in demand arrangers and trumpet players throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As the performance scene in NY began to slow down in the late 1960s John got his PhD in education from New York University in 1970.
In 1972, Doc was hired by Duquesne University where he spent the next 26 years developing one of the most important Jazz Studies programs in the country. Hundreds of musicians went through the program, and many have gone on to be highly successful musicians and educators in the field. During his tenure at Duquesne University, he wrote hundreds of arrangements for the school jazz ensemble, led his own ensembles of various sizes all over the region, recorded and wrote for countless musicians and was always willing to give advice to up-and-coming arrangers or former students. He also always enjoyed telling stories about the Jazz scene in New York City in the late 1940s through his departure in1972.
In 2009, John and Mike Tomaro, the current Director of Jazz Studies at Duquesne University, co-authored what has become a definitive arranging book: Instrumental Jazz Arranging: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide.
John's arrangements and trumpet playing are a critical part of the success of MCG Jazz. He wrote arrangements for Nancy Wilson’s GRAMMY Award-winning album and dozens of other projects for artists including Herbie Mann, Tony Williams, John Scofield, Joe Negri and many others. John became a MCG Jazz Pittsburgh Jazz Legend in 2008; the first class honored by MCG Jazz.
In addition to John’s love of Jazz he was an avid Pirates and Steelers fan. John often played in the strolling band at Pirate games over the years. He and his wife were season ticket holders to the Steelers for decades and always cherished their tailgate gatherings with close friends.
He would also enjoy doing the New York Times crossword puzzle — in pen — everyday.
John will be dearly missed by his wife of 41 years, Barbara (Simon) Wilson; his daughter, Amanda (Michael) Bothwell; and two grandchildren, Carter, and Chase. If desired, memorial contributions may be made to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild by visiting www.mcgjazz.org. Visitation is from 12 to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, at which time Words of Remembrance will be shared at Hart Funeral Home, Inc. Murrysville. Interment will be private. For online condolences, please visit www.hartfuneralhomeinc.com
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild
1815 Metropolitan Street, Pittsburgh PA 15233