Jazz Drummer John Von Ohlen: 'It's Gotta Swing'

Jan 5, 2017

Jim Nunn knew a little about drumming and a lot about book publishing. But he had never written a book until inspired by his friend, jazz drummer John Von Ohlen.

"For the last two years, John Von Ohlen has been putting up with me as we chatted countless times over coffee," says Nunn, who used to live across the street in Covington from Von Ohlen.

WVXU-FM aired a celebration of John Von Ohlen's career in 2009.
Credit WVXU-FM

At Covington's Roebling Point Books & Coffee, Von Ohlen told him about his 50-plus years in music – touring with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman big bands; co-founding the Blue Wisp Big Band; playing jazz with Keith Jarrett, Kenny Poole, Benny Carter and Cal Collins; keeping the beat for singers Tony Bennet, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Perry Como and his long-time girlfriend Mary Ellen Tanner.

Someone had to tell the story. So he did it himself – as he will explain on WVXU-FM's "Around Cincinnati" Sunday Jan. 8 (7-8 p.m.). 

Titled "It's Gotta Swing: The John Von Ohlen Story," Nunn's 106-page self-published book tells how Von Ohlen fell in love with drums when he heard Stan Kenton's band play as an Indianapolis teen-ager.

"He started to play music, and learned how to read music at an early age.  He played rock 'n' roll for a while, but he had to play the music he was comfortable with," Nunn says. The 1979 University of Cincinnati graduate worked at Milford's old WLYK-FM and at WCKY-AM before moving into book sales in 1986.  Nunn also played drums in garage bands as a Terrace Park teen.

"It's Gotta Swing" is available for $17 at Roebling Point Books & Coffee, the Booksellers At Fountain Square,  Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Amazon.

The Nunn interview opens "Around Cincinnati" at 7 p.m. Sunday. And here's a link to Lee Hay's 2009 WVXU-FM program celebrating Von Ohlen's career,  and Hay's 2014 tribute to Mary Ellen Tanner.