John Wilson Obituary, Death – Wilson, 96, began teaching at Duquesne in 1972 following a long career traveling as a trumpet player, writer, and arranger with some of jazz’s finest names, including Benny Goodman, Neil Hefti, Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, and many others.
He is responsible for the first jazz studies program in Pennsylvania, which was established in 1975, based on his expertise and education at New York University. He spent a total of 26 years creating the Duquesne jazz department before giving over the reins to one of his former students, Mike Tomaro, who has served as department Director of Jazz Studies since 1997.
“John Wilson was a master educator and a wonderful mentor to all of his students, including myself from 1976 to 1980,” recalled Tomaro. “To this day, those who had the opportunity to learn from him sing his praises.” Those of us who performed with him got to witness personally the understated beauty of his trumpet playing. Others of us got the opportunity to perform his well-crafted arrangements, allowing us to appreciate yet another aspect of John Wilson’s abilities.
I was really lucky to have John as a musical father figures throughout my life since we remained in contact after I graduated from Duquesne. I came to Pittsburgh numerous times to see John and his wife Barbara, and we always got into some type of in-depth musical debate. We shared the bandstand a lot, and I loved listening to his poetic trumpet playing and reading his poetry. When John resigned and it was time to pick a replacement, the University called me to be a candidate.
I won the job, and our friendship grew even stronger as a result. John expressed his delight that one of his former pupils would follow in his footsteps and teach at Duquesne. “I am extremely proud to carry on the work of this musical master’s standards.” Wilson continued to teach until 2012, instructing the Jazz Workshop and numerous other jazz classes, during which time he was designated Professor Emeritus (2010) by former Duquesne President Charles Dougherty.
John Wilson leaves an amazing legacy as a musician who was well-known in all facets of the industry—as a performer, composer/arranger, and educator. Along with Tomaro, many of his students can be found all over the country carrying on his legacy, including Marty Ashby (guitarist and Executive Producer for MCG Jazz), Roger Rosenberg (New York-based baritone saxophonist), Jeff “Tain” Watts (Pittsburgh-native drummer), Eric Richards (trombonist and Director of Bands and Jazz Studies at Sheridan College in Sheridan, WY), Don Aliquo, Jr. (
Wilson was a renowned jazz composer and arranger in addition to his work as a jazz trumpeter and educator. His arrangements may be found on Nancy Wilson’s GRAMMY Award-winning albums Turned to Blue (published in 2006) and R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal), which was released in 2004. He and Tomaro co-wrote the Hal Leonard textbook “Instrumental Jazz Arranging: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide,” which was published in 2009.