Saturday, November 21, 2015

Don Wolff 1935 - 2015

Don Wolff, longtime local broadcaster, jazz advocate, and attorney, has died. He was 80 years old and had been undergoing treatment for both leukemia and cancer for several years.

Instantly identifiable thanks to his signature on-air introduction, "I'm Don Wolff, and I love jazz," Wolff (pictured) was best known for his radio broadcasts, which began in 1987 on KXOK and continued in various forms on WSIE, KMOX and KFUO until 2010.

After KFUO was sold, he kept his radio program going on the internet, and also served as the host of HEC-TV's I Love Jazz since its inception. In addition, Wolff was known nationally as an expert on jazz in film; hosted jazz cruises; and served as MC for many live jazz events and festivals, both in St. Louis and nationally on the traditional jazz festival circuit.

Though Wolff's interest in jazz dated back to his childhood in University City, his "day job" was as a lawyer. After graduating from the University of Missouri, attending law school at Mizzou and serving in the US Army as a defense lawyer, prosecutor, and assistant judge advocate, Wolff began his civilian career in the 1960s as an assistant prosecutor for St. Louis County and then went into private practice as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney.

He was an adjunct professor for St. Louis University School of Law, and received numerous awards for his legal work, including the St. Louis County Bar Association Distinguished Service Award and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America National Award. Wolff also was recognized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri and was listed in Best Lawyers in America. He combined his legal knowledge with the skills honed during his jazz broadcasts to serve as a commentator and analyst for local media, hosting radio shows on legal topics for KXOK and KMOX, and a TV series, Legally Speaking with Don Wolff, for HEC.

Wolff served as a board member for a number of not-for-profit organizations in St. Louis, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Laumeier Sculpture Park, United Hebrew Congregation, Cystic Fibrosis, Boys Town of Missouri, Legal Advocates for Abused Women, and Harris-Stowe State University. Harris Stowe also houses the Don and Heide Wolff Jazz Institute, a repository for thousands of recordings from Wolff's personal collection as well as his accumulated films, videos, photos, books, magazines, and ephemera.

He supported Backstoppers and taught at the St. Louis Police Academy, and also was known as an advocate for civil rights, providing legal assistance pro bono to Harris-Stowe, the Urban League, and various other local African-American institutions and activists.

Earlier this year, the Jazz Journalists Association named Wolff as one of 23 local "Jazz Heroes" from throughout the USA for his work promoting jazz, and in October, he was inducted into Harris-Stowe's St. Louis Jazz Hall of Fame. He also was a member of the University City High School Hall of Fame.

Wolff's tastes in music tended toward mainstream, swing, and the Great American Songbook, and his favorite musicians, as cited on the air and in interviews, included Duke Ellington, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie. Yet he also was always on the lookout for young musicians playing in his preferred styles - for example, championing the career of stride pianist and St. Louis native Stephanie Trick when she was still just a teenager.

Wolff is survived by his wife Heide; sons Michael (Sarah) and Nelson (Susan), both of St. Louis; daughter Kristina (Patrick) Hourihane of Glenview, IL; and grandchildren Pierce, Jessica, Hugo, Harbor, Julia, Hobie, and Evalina.

The family requests that any donations in his memory be made to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, the Urban League of Metropolitan St Louis, or the DLW Scholarship Fund at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Funeral arrangements are by Berger Memorial, with a visitation to be held at 2:00 p.m. and a "New Orleans jazz style" celebration scheduled for 3:00 p.m. this coming Monday, November 23 at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141.

Update - 11:30 p.m., 11/21/15: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's obituary for Wolff is online here

Edited after posting to fix formatting issues, correct types, and add links.

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