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(Jimmy “KOKOMO” Wisner)

Felsted 861 2

No. 8    April 17, 1961




James Wisner was born in Philadelphia, December 8, 1931.   Both his mom and dad were self taught

piano pickers.   “Mom played by ear and dad played by rote,” explained Jimmy “The Wiz” Wisner in

an all-to rare interview.   “When they brought that piano home I was eight or nine and I discovered

that I had this instant ability to play.”    Wisner became quite good on the keys and took an early

interest in the serious stuff–jazz and the classics.


For ten years he was a classically trained at the Philadelphia Academy where he studied piano and

theory with Harry Grier, composition with Romeo Cascareni, and conducting with Henry Smith of the

Philadelphia Orchestra.      By 1959, the recent Temple University psychology graduate had formed the

Jimmy Wisner Trio, composed of himself on piano, Chick Keeney on drums, and Ace Tesone on bass.

The unit was playing the local clubs and had accompanied Mel Torme, Carmen McRae, Dakota Staton,

and the Hi-Lo’s.    Their first album, Blues For Harvey, was just being released by a London Record

subsidiary, Felsted Records, when the odd idea struck him.


The idea, as such, was sort of a rock’n’roll meets the masters.    Wisner didn’t know then as now what

the heck to call it.    He only knew what kind of sound he wanted to make.    “We bought this old up-

right piano for $50,” said “The Wiz,” “and  painted the hammers with shellac to give it a sound in-

between that of a ‘tack’ paino and that of a hard-harpsichord.    I guess I was into sounds, even then.

The most important thing in the record business, you know, is not the notes or the whatnot, it’s the

sounds, unique sounds.    This is at the RecoArt Studio, m Philadelphia.   Now, we had only four string

players, so to make it sound fuller we overdubbed them.     I played this melody that I loved from the

Greig Piano Concerto.”


The tunes title was easy, Wisner said.    The now rockin’ Greig number was in the key of A minor and

when someone at the session called out “What key is it in?,” the  reply was “Asia Minor.”


“We were turned down by 10 or 11 labels, so we put the thing out ourselves,” said “The Wiz.”     A few

weeks after Wisner had formed Future Records with a local record distributor, Harry Chipetz, and the

records engineer, Amel Corset, “Asia Minor” became something of a local sensation.   Only a few weeks

more and Kokomo was a national item with a top ten hit.


“The first I knew something was happening was about aweek after we put it out.   I was doing this

wedding and somebody came up to the band asking if anybody knew this song,  ‘Asia Minor,’ by

Kokomo.    Records have always been a mystery to me.   And this incident reinforced it.   It’s still

astonishes me, that some sounds go out over the a1rwaves and thousands of people you don’t know

and will never know appreciate it.   And maybe in some undetected way a life has been changed.   That’s magic.


“I put Kokomo on the record label as a pseudonym because it was basically a rock’n’roll record and I

was a jazz man.   I didn’t want to tarnish my position in the community, but ironically the jazz guys that

I knew really liked it the  best.”


To cover his I.D., Kokomo became a mystery.    No photos were ever published of this self-imposed

reclusive.    No interviews were ever given…ever.      And no performances were ever held in support of

“Asia Minor” or the Kokomo name.    An album and three further singles–“Humouresque,” “Like  Teen,” Journey Home”–were issued, but

nothing ever again charted.


“I thought that was it and I didn’t see there being any reason to do anything more with the Kokomo

thing,” said Wisner.    “From my point of view I was a jazz artist.”    The Jimmy Wisner Trio’s second

album,  Apperception, on the Chancellor label was issued in 1962.


“Little did I know then but, Kokomo was just the beginning,” he said.   “It was my first hit. And I’ve

been in the music business now for near forty years [interview date: 1988] and have been involved in the creation of over 100

singles that charted.”


As an arranger or producer, Jim Wisner worked with ALVIE AND KICKING on “Tighter, Tighter,”

Len Barry on “1, 2, 3,” the Cowsills on “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” Spanky & Our Gang on

their “Lazy Day” and “Sunday Will Never Be The Same,” Tommy James on “I Think We’re Alone Now”

and “Out Of The Blue,” THE INNOCENCE on “There’s Got to Be A Word,” THE SPOKESMEN on “The

Dawn Of Correction,” Peaches and Herb on “Love Is Strange,” MIRIAM MAKEBA on “Pata Pata,” Jay &

the Techniques on “Keep The Ball Rolling,” Jerry Butler on “Mr. Dream Merchant,” and CLINT

HOLMES on “Playground Of Your Mind.”


In addition, Wisner has worked on recordings by Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand, Carly Simon, Al

Kooper, the Buckinghams, IGGY POP, and, yes, Brigitte Bardot.


“The Wiz”   also co-wrote the Searchers’ “Don’t Throw Your Love Away,” the Tymes’  “Somewhere,”

Frankie Avalon’s “A Perfect Day,” and the theme’s for the “Phil Donahue Show.”   He scored for the

Robert Kennedy, Jr. documentary The Last Frontier and the movie What’s So Bad About Feeling

Good? (1968) starring Mary Tyler Moore and George Peppard.


In addition to the creation of jingles and commercials for such accounts as National Car Rental, IT&T,

AT&T, and Burger King, Wisner’s recent theatre production, Scrambled Eggs,  ran off-Broadway for

two years at the Village Gate in New York.       Of late, “The Wiz”  has co-produced and arranged for

Levon Helm, has been elected to the Board of Governors of NARAS, and is in anticipation of forming

his own label.


Trivia fans: “Wiz” Wisner is also the organ-grinder heard on Freddy Cannon’s “Palasades Park,” the

harpsichordist heard on Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now,” and the pianist heard on Miriam    Makeba’s

“Pita Pita.”


“I’ve never performed as might be fun, to do the oldies could get a kick out of that. Kokomo,” said “the

Wiz,” but it shows; I’m certainly old enough. Maybe, Kokomo will return.