“Despite not being a musician himself, Jim had a profound and extensive understanding of the genre, which made a lasting impact on everyone fortunate enough to hear him,” said John Foster, the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s managing director of programs.

DeJong, 81, died of complications from an infection at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said his sister, Catherine DeJong Artman. An Albany Park resident, DeJong had been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his sister said.

JIM DeJONG — Jazz Institute of Chicago

Born in Chicago, DeJong grew up on the Northwest Side and graduated from Lane Tech High School. He worked for the Chicago Tribune’s advertising department for a time, and he also was drafted by the U.S. military but was unable to serve as he suffered from asthma, his family said.

His father listened to Frank Sinatra and Artie Shaw records, while he and his siblings grew up listening to camp songs and took part in choruses, Artman said.

“Music was a big part of all of our lives, so it was kind of an easy way to phase into what he chose,” Artman said.

Jazz pros: Jim Dejong, Marguerite Horberg, Howard Mandel | Flickr

Howard Reich, the Tribune’s jazz critic from 1989 until 2021, said DeJong “was all about sharing jazz with the world, and it was impossible not to be swept up in his cause.”

“Jim DeJong was a universally beloved figure on Chicago’s jazz scene,” Reich said. “This was quite an accomplishment, considering all the competing interests involved. Yet every faction seemed to admire Jim and hold him close, presumably because of his vast knowledge of the music and his selfless advocacy for it.”

In a 1978 Tribune article, DeJong, then the Jazz Record Mart’s weekday manager, discussed consumers’ growing interest in jazz records and reflected on the frequency with which Chicago and out-of-town musicians would shop in the store.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship here with the customers, turning on to music,” he said. “It’s almost like an organism, just because there are so many people that roll through. It’s constant.”

DeJong left Jazz Record Mart in the 1990s and began overseeing the jazz department at Tower Records’ North Clark Street location. He worked there until that store closed in 2006.

DeJong was a Chicago-based correspondent for DownBeat, a magazine devoted to jazz and blues music, and he wrote frequently on jazz.

Ubiquitous Jazz Fan Jim DeJong of Chicago Dies at 81

In 1969, the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago was founded as a division of the Youth Music Foundation. The group was formed to produce jazz concerts and to run educational programs as a way to make sure that jazz music would continue to be heard.

DeJong helped to get the Jazz Institute of Chicago off the ground and served on its board for almost 50 years, briefly serving as the institute’s executive director.

 “When I think of Jim, I am reminded of his deeply complexed exploration of jazz,” said Diane Chandler Marshall, the former education director for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. “Even though he listened to jazz with an intensity that would be expressed in a very provocative question, Jim would always present his thoughts in a very lighthearted manner.”

DeJong co-founded the HotHouse cultural center for international exhibition and performance, and for a time was the artistic director of the Links Hall performing arts theater in the North Center neighborhood on Northwest Side.

DeJong was an unofficial consultant on jazz music for the operators of the Jazz Showcase, Delmark Records and the Green Mill jazz club.

In addition to his sister, DeJong is survived by three other sisters, Margaret DeJong, Penelope Grows and Chris Swiller; and a brother, John.

A memorial service will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago.

Jim DeJong