Record producer and studio wizard Tom Wilson was born Waco, Texas, on March 25, 1931. Tom Wilson, as much as anybody in the music business, had a feel for how music should sound in the fifties and sixties. He  proved it, first with his Boston-based company, Transition Pre-Recorded Tapes, Inc. and then in New York with United Artists, Savoy, Columbia, and Verve.

Photo of Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson, mid-1960s

Thomas Blanchard Wilson graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1954. In his spare time there, he worked at radio station WHRB, and founded the Harvard New Jazz Society. Wilson was also president of the Harvard Young Republicans Club.

Wilson started Transition in 1955, recording his first LP on March 13 of that year. It was Jazz in a Stable, recorded live in the Huntington Avenue club of that name and featuring the Jazz Workshop Quintet then starring there—Varty Haroutunian, John Neves, Herb Pomeroy, Ray Santisi, and Jimmy Zitano. Other recordings followed, perhaps 15 in all, among them LPs by trumpeter Johnny Windhurst, saxophonist Lucky Thompson, bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Cecil Taylor (his first), and bandleader/pianist Sun Ra (also his first). Transition released three LPs by trumpeter Donald Byrd, including Byrd’ Jazz, his first as a leader. Wilson also released folk and contemporary classical music.

Wilson ran out of money in 1957 and closed up shop. A job with United Artists took him to New York. He sold most of his masters to Blue Note and Delmark. He continued recording jazz at UA, and at Savoy and Audio Fidelity. Then in 1963 Columbia Records hired him as a staff producer, and he began a 15-year career as a prolific and influential producer of rock music. Wilson was responsible for the first recordings of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground, Soft Machine, and others. There’s a good summary of all that in The Amazing Tom Wilson.

Wilson never returned to jazz, his first love. He was only 47 when he died on September 6, 1978.

Read the complete story on my Tom Wilson and Transition Records page.