The Troy Street Observer

Mar 25, 1931: Tom Wilson of Transition Records Born

On this day, record producer and studio wizard Tom Wilson was born Waco, Texas. 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 with United Artists, Savoy, Columbia, and Verve.

Photo of Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson, mid-1960s

Thomas Blanchard Wilson was a 1954 cum laude graduate of Harvard, where in his spare time he  worked at radio station WHRB and founded the Harvard New Jazz Society. He 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 at the club—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, and pianists Cecil Taylor (his first), and Sun Ra (also his first). There were three LPs by trumpeter Donald Byrd. Wilson also released folk and contemporary classical music.

Transition LP covers
Transition LP covers, clockwise from upper left: the Jazz Workshop Quintet, Johnny Windhurst, Donald Byrd, Doug Watkins, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor

Other projects were recorded but never released: a Boston quintet co-led by Jay Migliori and Tommy Ball, and another featuring Pepper Adams and Dick Wetmore playing violin. The tapes have yet to emerge.

Wilson ran out of money in 1957 and closed up shop. A job with United Artists took him to New York. He sold much of his recorded output to Blue Note and eventually auctioned the remainder. He continued recording jazz at UA, and at Savoy and Audio Fidelity. Then in 1963 he was hired as a staff producer by Columbia Records, where he began a 15-year career as a prolific and influential producer of rock music. Wilson was responsible the first recordings of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground, Soft Machine, and others.

Sadly, Wilson never returned to jazz, his first love (I think he would have been a fine match for Migliori’s Supersax). He was only 47 when he died in 1978.

Read more about Tom Wilson here On Troy Street in the blog entries for May 7, July 12, and September 14.

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