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Jen Wilson, Jazz pianist, author, historian and archivist died on the evening of Monday 8 May 2023 at the age of 78. She made a huge contribution to the cultural life in Swansea and Wales, which we could only touch on in this piece. She was ahead of her time in her subject matter, and her methods of engagement, and it is these issues and qualities which make her work so contemporary.

Jen was a fine musician in her own right. She left school at the age of 16 because they locked the piano to stop her from playing the Jazz she loved. At that time she was going up to London with her beloved brother John, a drummer and playing with his band, and then visiting Ronnie Scott’s club. As a typist in a Swansea shipping office, and then living and working in Brixton and Newcastle family services she absorbed essential administration and life skills about the way the world works

Her real education started in Swansea Women’s Centre in the early 80’s. As well as going up to Greenham Common to protest against cruise missiles, Jen worked with Ursula Masson and Gail Allen in researching and recording the history of ‘ordinary’ women in the Swansea area. This included interviewing older women patients in the final days of Mount Pleasant hospital where she worked. The Swansea Women’s History Group made 3 videos: about the women munitions workers in Bridgend in WW2; women conscientious objectors; and the women in the miners’ strike in the Swansea valley in 1984. Relevant to today’s music industry, the Manic Street Preachers used the miner’s strike footage in their music videos and big screen concert backdrops, and the band Public Service Broadcasting used the interview recordings on their album.

Jen then started to find out more about women jazz musicians and singers, and this ultimately led to her founding Women in Jazz in 1986, and then Jazz Heritage Wales. This is a unique multi-media jazz Collection now based in the Dylan Thomas centre in Swansea. It contains, for example, a long interview with Ottilie Paterson from the 1990s which featured in the recent BBC television programme. Other oral histories led to the readiness of women jazz performers to donate to the Collection, and some of these have been used by the British Library and BBC sounds.

Jen composed, performed, and recorded original music with Jen Wilson Ensemble, including the great American songbook, and Salubrious Rhythm Company. She taught and facilitated many music workshops and masterclasses, culminating in 2011 with the first all female swing band (in Britain?), since WWII.

Throughout her career, Jen inspired, educated, and encouraged female musicians and gave them opportunities to perform. She felt that women’s visibility and voice in this male dominated industry this was incredibly important.

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    Page last updated on: 5/24/2023 09.28



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