Herb Wong, 1926-2014

Herb Wong, an academic scientist who became prominent as a jazz critic, record company executive and festival producer, died this week. A PhD in Zoology, he was a native of northern California’s Bay Area. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWong continued to follow his boyhood enthusiasm for jazz as he developed an academic career, teaching at the University of California at Berkelely and Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. A gentle man with infectious enthusiasm for all of his interests, Wong taught science, administered university departments and developed jazz studies courses.

In addition, he produced the Palo Alto Jazz Festival, designed a jazz oral history exhibit for the Smithsonian Institution and in the course of his career headed two jazz record companies, Blackhawk and Palo Alto. He was also a disc jockey with the Bay Area radio station KJAZ-FM. In addition, he wrote scores of liner essays for albums. Internment will be at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. Services are yet to be announced. Herb Wong was 88.

Herb was notably proud of a 1984 Phil Woods Quintet album that he produced for his Blackhawk label. It was called Heaven after the Duke Ellington title tune and featured Woods, alto saxophone; Tom Harrell, trumpet; Hal Galper, piano; Steve Gilmore, bass; and Bill Goodwin, drums.

Herb Wong, RIP

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  1. says

    Dr. Wong was a Hero to me and my husband Larry Dunlap. When no one in the Bay Area would record us, he signed us to Palo Alto Records. He also had us play at the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance several times. He also helped other talented people. He was a Helper. He will be missed by Larry and myself. We loved you, darling man.

  2. Charlton Price says

    On Alameda’s KJAZ, and at jazz festivals and other gigs since the middle of the last century, Herb has been the preeminent patron of and mentor for jazz all around the Bay Area and far beyond. His impeccable, catholic taste and quiet enthusiasm continually enriched us with his knowledge of and joy in the music and its people. Even after KJAZ went to rock, Herb remained with us on the air and online as a regular guest on KCSM in San Mateo, especially and memorably each Christmas morning…

  3. Mark Mohr says

    Herb Wong was a legendary figure in the Bay Area jazz scene. His name will live forever.

  4. says

    I had the pleasure to work with Herb on many occasions in many different circumstances. He was always a pleasure to work with and a joy to be around. His knowledge of jazz music and jazz history was amazing, as was his record collection. When I first had my idea for TRPTS – my four trumpet group, he not only encouraged me to put it together, but promised that we would be on his Blackhawk label before he ever heard a note. He kept his word and it became a very good seller for the label. I used to love to be invited to his old radio show at KJAZ, and we would sometimes sit and talk about jazz and play recordings for hours. He also wrote the liner notes for my first big band album – Evil Eyes. Thank you Herb for being a great friend to jazz musicians, jazz students, and jazz fans alike.

  5. says

    Herb was a Bay Area Jazz Institution, presenting, teaching, writing, along with his
    DJ work on KJAZ 92.7, his love of the music and its proponents, honesty and
    dedication were without peer.

  6. says

    Wow! That’s a great album. Thanks, and sorry for the loss of this fine man who has given so much to our music. “Heaven” was one of the tunes I’ve transcribed during my jazz studies. It helped me a lot to understand the Duke’s cryptical writing.

    Maybe I can dig up the sketch. Would be nice to play it at our gig in a renowned Cologne record store on Duke’s 40th obituary on May 24. R.I.P. Mr. Wong. The torch you’ve ignited will be passed on.