Our deepest sympathies go out to Jimmy Wisner’s family and friends on his passing on March 13, 2018, at the age of 86.
Trained as a classical pianist, Wisner, known admiringly as “The Wiz,” was one of the most sought-after professionals on the creative side of the music industry. He was involved in more than 100 hit records as either producer, arranger, writer or artist. Before emerging as a recording studio triple threat, Wisner headed a jazz trio that was well known on the club circuit in his native Philadelphia during the late ’50s and early ’60s. The Jimmy Wisner Trio accompanied Mel Tormé, Carmen McRae, Dakota Staton and the Hi-Lo’s on live dates when they toured extensively with appearances in New York and Europe and at the Newport Jazz Festival, releasing albums of their own and recording the classic album, Mel Tormé at the Red Hill. In 1961, Wisner entered the world of pop music, under the nom de plume “Kokomo” concerned with tarnishing his sterling reputation in jazz, with the release of the exotic honky tonk-flavored “Asia Minor,” a worldwide instrumental smash single that hit the Top 10 in the US. On the heels of the success of “Somewhere,” a song co-written with then wife, Norma Mendoza and a Top 20 hit in 1963 for Cameo Parkway labelmates The Tymes, Jimmy co-wrote “Don’t Throw Your Love Away.” Recorded by The Orlons in November 1963, it subsequently became a #1 hit for The Searchers in the U.K. in 1964. Wisner would continue to produce, arrange and write songs for other Cameo Parkway labelmates Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, Len Barry and John Zacherle.
In the intervening years Jimmy Wisner earned 36 Gold and 22 Platinum Awards for his work with a panoply of major “name” artists including Nat Adderley, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Freddy Cannon (that’s Wisner playing the organ on “Palisades Park”), Roberto Carlos, Judy Collins, The Cowsills, Tommy James & The Shondells, Al Kooper, Miriam Makeba, Herbie Mann, Iggy Pop, Neil Sedaka, Carly Simon, Nina Simone, Spanky & Our Gang, Randy and the Rainbows and even Brigitte Bardot, among many, many others. There was a week in November of 1967 when Jimmy was represented on the Billboard chart by 7 hits (all with bullets), on the Top 100 over a range of artists and genres. Over the years he recorded singles and albums as an artist in his own right for several labels including Cameo, Wyncote, Chancellor, Felsted, Firebird, Decca, London, Atlantic, and Columbia.
Jimmy “The Wiz” Wisner’s behind-the-scenes career in music blossomed even further when he joined Columbia Records as the label’s head of A&R. He went on to work on hundreds of TV shows, films and commercials, arranging the music heard in Mr. Holland’s Opus and Dumb and Dumber among many others. Jimmy also served as a four-term governor on the board of the New York Chapter of NARAS and was Creative Media Advisor for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.