Jed Williams

Creator of the Brecon Jazz Festival
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The Independent Online

Jed Williams, festival director and magazine editor: born Cardiff 12 June 1952; married 1981 Carolyn Oakley; died 9 November 2003.

It was brave and imaginative of Jed Williams to invent the Brecon Jazz Festival. Williams shouldered aside the image of the jazz festival in the spacious sunburned playgrounds of Nice and Santa Monica and in 1984 decided to cram one into a small Welsh market town.

The market hall was one of the main venues, but the small town was inordinately well equipped with the decent auditoria that made the festival so successful. But accommodation for an audience was a problem and as the bed-and-breakfasts were booked to the hilt far in advance of the festival, bedroom seekers spread out like the rings from a stone in a pond as they scoured the surrounding area.

Instead of sunshine, Williams offered all-day drinking to accompany the jazz acts. This brought money to the town in the shape of an army of young people who did not care about jazz but came there to get drunk. Thus the comparatively staid jazz fans had to negotiate ever renewed pools of vomit as they made their way from a Ruby Braff session to a Humphrey Lyttelton concert.

Williams was a gifted and determined organiser who worked in insurance in Cardiff after leaving Howardian Grammar School, and played drums in a local band led by the trumpeter Chris Hodgkins. Williams then managed the jazz section of a Cardiff record store. It was natural that he should become involved in the Cardiff summer jazz festivals of the Seventies. In 1980 he was appointed administrator of the Welsh Jazz Society and with the backing of a local brewery set up the city's leading jazz centre, the Four Bars Inn.

When, with encouragement from the locals, he set up the Brecon Festival in 1984, he was able to use the considerable experience he had gained in booking international jazz stars at the Four Bars Inn. Each year for a long weekend in August the whole town seemed to throw itself into the festival, not just as hosts to the visitors but as stewards, ticket-sellers and caterers. Williams generated the funding for the festival with some ingenuity from public subsidy and commercial sponsors.

In 1991 Williams joined Jazz Services, a subsidised body designed to promulgate jazz gigs throughout the various regions. Under Williams the organisation produced Jazz UK, a slender magazine that pulled together all the regional leaflets and disseminated their contents on a national basis. Williams edited it himself for 10 years until his health began to fail and he was forced to hand over the job to the jazz writer John Fordham.

Poor health affected Williams's attempts to gain sponsorship for the festival in recent years, and the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic of 2001 delivered a substantial blow. But the crowds were back in force this year, and it seemed that Williams's resurgence gave a bright outlook for the future. He was already making plans for the 20th festival when he was taken ill and died from an acute viral infection.

Steve Voce