John Von Ohlen, Co-Founder of Cincinnati’s Blue Wisp Big Band, Has Died

John Von Ohlen, 77, on October 3rd. He was the drummer for Woody Herman between 1967 and 1969, then with Stan Kenton from 1970 to 1972. He also toured with Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, and Mel Torme. In 1980 he co-founded the Cincinnati based Blue Wisp Big Band. He became an integral part of the jazz scene and was the inspiration to create the Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame. His drum set was recognizable for having a  crescent moon cut out of the cymbal.

He formed the Blue Wisp Jazz Band after settling down in Cincinnati because the musicians he’d run into “weren’t playing any jazz, which is the reason they started playing in the first place.” His idea was to start a “world-class big band and… put it in a tavern, a beer joint.” The band was named for Blue Wisp Jazz Club where it held down Wednesday nights until the venue closed in 2014. They’ve released five albums of hard bop orientated big band music that have been heard on jazz radio stations around the world. Von Ohlen also appeared on recordings with jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, vocalist Carmen McRae, and saxophonist Benny Carter.

Hot Jazz Jubile

“A Celebration Of John Von Ohlen” a radio special that first aired in 2009 will be rebroadcast at 10 p.m. Oct. 6 on WVXU-FM where it can be streamed live.

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of

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