John S. Wilson, the first critic to write regularly about jazz and pop music in the New York Times, died Aug. 27 at a nursing home in Princeton, N.J. He was 89.
Although Wilson, a contributor to the Times for four decades and a widely heard radio host, wrote about a variety of music, he was best known for his authoritative coverage of jazz. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins named a tune, “John S.,” on his album “The Bridge” after Wilson.
Elizabeth, N.J., native attended Wesleyan and earned his master’s in journalism at Columbia. During WWII, he served in the Army and edited the base newspaper at Fort Dix, N.J., and later a military women’s journal in Paris. After the war, he returned to New York, where he was an entertainment editor, sports editor and columnist for the landmark newspaper PM and the New York editor of Down Beat.
He started with the Times in 1952 and continued in the paper until 1994.
His books include “The Collector’s Jazz: Traditional and Swing,” “The Collector’s Jazz: Modern” and “Jazz: The Transition Years, 1940-1960.” He also wrote regularly for High Fidelity magazine and Video Review.
He was a commentator on “The World of Jazz” radio series on WQXR 1954-1970, his program “Jazz Today” was broadcast on the Voice of America 1971-89, and he was the host of “The Manhattan Jazz Hour” on American Public Radio in 1985-86. “John Wilson’s Classic Jazz” was broadcast weekly on WQXR from 1986-93.
He is survived by wife Mary Moris Schmidt, two sons and two grandchildren.