All of us at the Mary Pappert School of Music are saddened to learn that Dr. John “Doc” Wilson passed away on Friday, May 12.

Wilson, who was 96 years old, began teaching at Duquesne in 1972 after a long career of touring as a trumpet player, composer, and arranger for some of the biggest names in jazz history, including the likes of Benny Goodman, Neil Hefti, Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, and many more. Drawing from his experience and his education at New York University, he is responsible for the first jazz studies curriculum in Pennsylvania, which was implemented in 1975. He spent a total of 26 years developing the Duquesne jazz program, ultimately handing the reins off to one of his own Duquesne students, Mike Tomaro, who has served as Program Director of Jazz Studies since 1997.

“John Wilson was a master educator and wonderful mentor to all his students, myself being one of them from 1976–1980,” said Tomaro. “To this day, his praises have been spoken among those who had the opportunity to learn from him. Those of us who also performed alongside him got to experience firsthand the subdued brilliance of his trumpet playing. Others of us had the opportunity to perform his well-crafted arrangements, enjoying yet another facet of John Wilson‘s talents. I was very fortunate to have John as a musical father figure throughout my life, as we stayed in touch after I left Duquesne. I returned to Pittsburgh countless times to visit with John and his wife Barbara, with John and I invariably getting into some sort of in-depth musical discussion. We shared the bandstand together many times and I cherished listening to his lyrical trumpet playing and enjoying his writing. When John retired and the time came to find a successor, I was touched to be contacted by the University to become a candidate. I won the position, and at that point, our bond became even closer. John told me he was so happy that one of his students would continue in his footsteps teaching at Duquesne. I am extremely proud to continue the work of the standards set by this musical master.”

After Tomaro took over the jazz department, Wilson continued teaching until 2012, directing the Jazz Workshop and several other jazz courses, during which time, he was named Professor Emeritus (2010) by former Duquesne President Charles Dougherty.

John Wilson leaves behind the incredible legacy of a musician who was renowned in all aspects of the industry—permormer, composer/arranger, and educator. In addition to Tomaro, many of his students can be found all over the country paying that legacy forward, 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. (saxophonist and Professor at Middle Tenessee State University), and David Budway (pianist and owner of Maureen's Jazz Cellar in Nyack, NY), to name just a few.

In addition to his work as an educator and jazz trumpeter, Wilson was a revered jazz composer and arranger. His arrangements are prominently featured on Nancy Wilson’s GRAMMY Award-winning albums Turned to Blue (released in 2006) and R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal), released in 2004. He and Tomaro co-authored the textbook “Instrumental Jazz Arranging: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide,” a Hal Leonard publication (released in 2009).

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May 15, 2023