Bill Thissen, a newscaster and host of Jazz Flavors on International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT) for almost three decades, died at Taipei Veterans General Hospital early on Saturday morning at age 72 after an illness.
William Henry Thissen was born on April 27, 1942, in Clara City, Minnesota, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from St John’s University. He taught in Marion, South Dakota, and New Buffalo, Michigan, before moving to Taiwan in 1977 with his first wife, Pat, to work at the Taipei American School (TAS), where he taught music, including band and choir classes, and directed musical productions such as Fiddler on the Roof.
In 1984, Thissen began working at ICRT (where this reporter later worked with him) with a weekly classical music show.
Photo: Courtesy of International Community Radio Taipei
In 1985, he persuaded station management to let him try a jazz show. Jazz Flavors, a two-hour weekly set of contemporary jazz and blues-related music, became not only the longest-running show at the English-language radio station, but the longest in the nation.
Thissen took equal delight in introducing Jazz Flavors audiences to famous classics and jazz masters as well as to newcomers, curating the pieces for each show with erudite commentary, wit and humor. He encouraged listeners to attend performances by visiting artists alongside championing local musicians and bands.
In one of the many tributes posted on Facebook by former coworkers and students, musicians and fans, musician Rick Taira wrote: “If you were a jazz musician in Taiwan, there was no telling when Bill might walk in on one of your performances. When he showed up, you perked up on stage and displayed your best bebop chops. Bill knew his stuff and was not one of those flavor-of-the-month kind of guys.”
The final edition of Jazz Flavors was on Aug. 25 last year. In keeping with Thissen’s low-key personality, the finale was not announced in advance. He had resigned as newscaster at the beginning of that month.
Over the decades, Thissen worked a variety of shifts for the ICRT news team, anchoring evening newscasts as well as morning shows. As morning anchor, Thissen was part of the team that won ICRT a Golden Bell award in 2008.
Thissen also kept up his theater interests, including — according to former TAS teacher John Dankowski — playing a few bit parts in Taiwanese movies in the late 1970s and acting in amateur theatrical productions, such as a version of The Odd Couple produced by ICRT, when he played Felix to Nick Gould’s Oscar.
He also served as master of ceremonies for many programs by foreign jazz and blues artists, as well as for local musicians, including the Mercedes Amateur Jazz Competition in September 2008, and was involved in countless community and charity fundraising events.
He was invited to be part of an "Evening of American Music" presented by the American Institute in Taiwan Kaohsiung Branch Office at the Kaohsiung City Cultural Center on Nov. 15, 2009, with the Kaohsiung Symphony Orchestra, speaking words by Martin Luther King Jr during conductor and composer William Henry Curry’s Eulogy for a Dream. The show was later broadcast by the Public Television Service.
In addition to his love for almost all types of music, Thissen was known for his interest in current events, politics and nontheism.
Thissen is survived by his wife, Rose Hsu, daughters Andrea and Katrina, brothers Mark, Gregory, Steven and Robert Thissen and sisters Marilyn Thissen Hedlund, Rita Thissen Toussaint and Genevieve Thissen Tomaino, as well as two grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
Hsu yesterday said that a funeral service is to be held at the Taipei Second Municipal Funeral Parlor on Sunday, July 27, beginning at 1pm.
ICRT general manager Tim Berge said that the station’s Morning Show on Monday is to be a tribute to Thissen.
A “Happy Memories Memorial” gathering in his honor is to be held on Saturday, Aug. 2, at Alleycat’s Pizza in Tianmu (天母), beginning at 7pm.
This story has been updated since it was first published.
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