jrodriguez@mercurynews.com

MENLO PARK -- Well-known jazz expert Herb Wong died at home early Sunday morning, leaving behind a legacy filled with writings and interviews covering the world of jazz over much of the 20th century. He was 88.

"He had so many roles in the community," said Paul Fingerote, a friend and colleague for 35 years who was working on a book with the Bay Area jazz legend. "He was a true Renaissance man, plus he was a unique guy."

Wong had been battling cancer, but it's not known whether the illness was the cause of his death.

A jazz journalist, historian, critic, record and concert producer, Wong, who lived in Menlo Park, left a wide footprint on the Bay Area music scene after first falling in love with jazz as young boy in his native Oakland and Stockton. He went on to become a disc jockey with FM radio station KJAZ, and he designed a jazz oral history exhibit for the Smithsonian Institution and produced the Palo Alto Jazz Festival. He also cofounded the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance.

In a 1993 article for the Mercury News, freelance writer Marty Graham said the goal of the Alliance was to "spread the gospel of jazz according to Parker, Coltrane, Armstrong and Ellington; to draw the layman to the church of jazz."

"This is the most democratic music there is," Wong told the writer. "Most people who don't know much about this music don't hold it in the esteem it should be held."

Wong was honored last December with the Palo Alto Excellence Award in Jazz Education for his dedication and design of 75 different courses over 25 years teaching in Palo Alto. In an interview with public radio, Wong said he came to jazz accidentally when a box of recordings was delivered to the previous owner of his family's new house in Stockton. He and his brother broke it open.

"So when we heard Art Tatum and all these other cats, we said, 'Wait a minute. This is fantastic music.' "

By the time he enlisted in the Army during World War II, his audio skills were so good the service put him in radio and communications. He became a jazz deejay with the Armed Forces Radio Service in postwar Tokyo. Wong returned to the Bay Area after military service to study at UC Berkeley, where he earned bachelor and doctoral degrees in zoology. He also earned a master's degree in science education from San Jose State.

In 1959, he won a listener contest sponsored by KJAZ to talk on the air with a disc jockey. He impressed the staff so much with his knowledge of jazz that the station gave him his own show. He was a staple at the station until 1996. Wong was also an early supporter of the world-famous Monterey Jazz Festival.

He also taught at UC Berkeley and the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. He co-authored numerous books for children on science and introduced jazz education in Berkeley elementary schools.

Wong is survived by his wife, Marilyn, brother Elwood Wong, daughters Kira and Kamberly and four grandchildren. Services are pending.

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.