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Herb Wong, jazz icon and educator, dies at 88

Easter Sunday this year saw the passing of Herb Wong, 88, a long-time Menlo Park resident renowned internationally as a jazz expert and educator.

Wong had strong ties to Palo Alto -- teaching jazz at the Palo Alto Adult School for 25 years, and co-founding the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, a non-profit jazz education organization, for which he served as artistic director.

A mysterious box sparked Wong's lifelong fascination with jazz. As young boys, he and his brother Elwood had just moved with their parents to Stockton when a package arrived on the doorstep, addressed to the former occupant.

"As any boys would, they opened it up," said Paul Fingerote, a colleague and friend for more than 30 years. "They found jazz (records) and Herb said, 'This is my music.'"

The two men were collaborating on a compilation of Wong's liner notes and recollections, a project Fingerote intends to complete. "Herb was a living history of jazz... his writing was so exquisite, so sharp. It wasn't just the music he captured, it was a sense of the times."

Dubbed a "Renaissance man" because of talents that spanned multiple career fields, Wong wrote about and produced jazz shows for decades, and spent more than 25 years sharing his musical passions with others.

"Before they called it jazz education, this is what Herb was doing," Fingerote said.

He served as president of the International Association for Jazz Education and was elected to the Jazz Education Hall of Fame. Seven original jazz compositions have been written in his honor.

But Wong's accomplishments in the world of jazz are only part of his achievements.

After serving in the Army during World War II, he earned a doctorate from UC Berkeley in zoology and a master's degree in science education at San Jose State University. He went on to teach at several schools during his academic career and published numerous books on learning.

Fingerote described him as a "wonderful friend" who always wanted to know what was happening in other people's lives and "seemed to be excited about everything."

He is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 46 years, brother Elwood, and daughters Kira and Kamberly, in addition to four grandchildren.

Wong will be buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Services will be announced.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made in his memory to the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, P.O. Box 60397, Palo Alto, CA 94306.

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