About Jed

The following is an article written by jazz author and critic John Fordham and appeared in the Guardian newspaper shortly after Jed’s death in 2003.

Jed Williams

Jazz is a particularly humane music mostly made for love rather than money or fame. It celebrates virtues, tolerates imperfections, shares ideas, crosses nations and colours and creeds. Because a lot of it is improvised, it reflects the humour and sadness and intimacies and misunderstandings of life as we live it from moment to moment. When jazz gets under your skin, it tends to stay there for life.

That's what happened to Jed Williams. As a Cardiff school friend of a young trumpeter called Chris Hodgkins (much later to become director of Jazz Services), and as an enthusiastic teenage drummer, Williams caught the jazz bug, and it shaped his life. With Chris Hodgkins, Williams graduated to backing American jazz celebrities like Wild Bill Davison and Buddy Tate on their visits to Wales, though he made little of it in later years, and would parry questions about his playing life with something like: 'I used to play drums a bit.' But Jed became very active on the Welsh jazz scene as an enabler as much as a player, eventually becoming director of the Welsh Jazz Society in the early 1980s, and setting up Cardiff's Four Bars Inn as a dedicated jazz venue.
Under his direction, the Four Bars became a model of a live jazz venue - with a good piano, good sound system, great atmosphere, and with local musicians and visiting celebrities freely mingling there.
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But the reason it existed, and effectively became Cardiff's Ronnie Scott's, was the unique mix of qualities Jed Williams brought to running it - enthusiasm, knowledge, determination, and an entrepreneurial streak rare among the well-meaning but sometimes impractical volunteers who keep the jazz scene going.
Jed Williams was a jazz-lover, an astute businessman, and a devolutionist aware that good jazz could be found all over the UK, not just in London. He was an immensely influential figure for jazz in Wales and beyond, a wittily dignified presence welcomed everywhere for the sagacity and generosity of his counsel, the unsectarian inclusiveness of his programming at the Brecon Jazz Festival he was to mastermind from 1983 on, and the loyalty of his commitment to the music and its friends. The Brecon Festival's Andy Eagle declared after Williams' sudden death in November 2003: “To many, Jed was Brecon Jazz.”

His intimate knowledge of the music, his relationships with the musicians and his innovative programming skills brought an international reputation and great financial benefits...turning Brecon Jazz into one of Europe's finest jazz festivals, and one of Wales' landmark events.

The opportunity to run Brecon Jazz Festival came when a local Brecon arts group, enthused by a visit to Holland's Breda festival, approached Jed Williams as a programming adviser. But he never had a narrow view of the idea.

He drove a grand plan for the project through hesitant funding bodies and council meetings, and was soon drawing some of the biggest names in jazz to Wales - including Sonny Rollins, Abdullah Ibrahim, Michael Brecker and many others.

Rarely a delegator, he handled almost everything himself, from contract negotiation to road-logistics. But when the Arts Council's mid-'80s network of regional jazz offices began to unravel later that decade with changes in arts policy, Jed spotted another loophole. He was convinced that the free local jazz newspapers they all produced, covering jazz in Britain from the grass roots up rather than the celebrities down, was a profile-raising service too useful to lose. In 1991, Jazz Services hired him to pull together the remnants of those magazines into one integrated publication with regional supplements.

By 1995, it was simply JazzUK, a bi-monthly magazine primarily devoted to the British jazz scene and British artists, mainly supported by advertising and distributed to jazz outlets all over Britain. Jed, his wife Carolyn, and a handful of dedicated local helpers ran JazzUK out of a shoebox of an office in Cardiff's elegant Castle Arcade, still the magazine's base today.

For a shy man, Jed's conviction and confidence in pursuing what he believed in was all the more remarkable. Jazz enthusiasts sometimes go cap in hand in search of support, as if this strange enthusiasm is really too weird to be taken seriously by grown-ups with chequebooks. But Jed Williams never looked at it like that. The reason the Four Bars worked, the reason the Brecon Jazz Festival and JazzUK worked, was because he made jazz sound like an attractive commercial and artistic proposition to hard-headed people, while never losing his sense of pleasure in how wonderful the music is for its own sake. At JazzUK, at the Brecon Jazz Festival, and all over the British jazz scene, Jed Williams has been a very hard act to follow indeed.

John Fordham