Jen Wilson, Hon. Professor of Practice UWTSD
Jen Wilson was born in Swansea.
A jazz pianist from an early age, I couldn’t find my niche at secondary school and passed only English Literature ‘O’ level, so I was told. They locked the piano so I left school at 16 with good secretarial skills. The day job was as a secretary on Swansea Docks in the British Anthracite export department, while playing pubs and jazz clubs at night. Jenny and the Giants was one band, and The Tempos another. Ironically, I failed music ‘O’ level. As a composer, I was commissioned in 2001 by the Dylan Thomas Centre to set twelve of Dylan Thomas's poems for Quintet and Voice commemorating the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas in 2003. The Dylan Thomas Jazz Suite 'Twelve Poems' is performed by the Jen Wilson Ensemble and has received critical acclaim at Brecon Jazz Festival, Waterford International Literature Festival, the Dylan Thomas Festival etc.
My education began by joining, together with Gail Allen, the Swansea Women’s History Group in 1981, started by Ursula Masson MA, a pioneering historian. During the next ten years we took courses in Video Production and made documentaries on women working at Bridgend Munitions Factory, Back of the Front Line; the miners’ strike 1984/5, Smiling and Splendid Women; Swansea Conscientious Objectors during WW2, Swansea Conchie Controversy; the Last Day at the Mount Pleasant Maternity Unit which had been the old Workhouse, The Last Day; and Portrait of the Artist as an Older Woman on poetry and music in Swansea 1989. All these are now available on YouTube. I spent many years working on community arts projects.
I gained a M.Sc. in Women's Studies in 1996.
Working with the History Group I realised there must be a story to tell about how jazz came to Wales, and women jazz musicians. I set up the Women’s Jazz Archive in 1986, had it registered as a charitable trust in 1998, and it finally was housed at Jazz Heritage Wales at UWTSD in 2008. www.jazzheritage.wales received the Welsh Government’s St. David Award for Culture in 2017, and I was made Hon. Prof. of Practice.
My book FREEDOM MUSIC Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950 was published by the University of Wales Press in 2019.