TRIBUTE: Heulwen Phillips (1966-2017)

Heulwen Phillips


HEULWEN PHILLIPS, Project Director - and effectively Chief Executive  - of JazzUK, the successor organization to Jazz Services, passed away in the evening of Wednesday 8 February, at the age of just 50, after a battle against cancer. In this tribute, Dominic McGonigal, Chair of JazzUK remembers the energy and inspiration that she brought to the organization. With additional contributions from Adrian Dwyer and Emily Saunders. In sadness. Dominic writes:

She arrived in a whirlwind, her voice struggling to keep up with her mind, tripping over the words. You could not help but be infected by her energy and passion, instilled with love and warmth.

Heulwen Phillips threw her energies at the jazz world as Project Director of JazzUK. She joined the board, and suddenly there were ideas that were creative, supportive of jazz musicians, and deliverable, and Jazz Services became JazzUK.

One of Heulwen’s ideas was a new jazz festival in Coventry, one that brought in new audiences, and participants such as theatre groups, and one that crucially, wasn’t an event entirely reliant on Arts Council funding.  

Whether the people of Coventry had any idea of the scale, and diversity of what became #4Jazz, is uncertain.  What is certain is that Heulwen’s #4Jazz was a resounding success on every metric that one might apply.   

But if I was to take one single ‘success’ at #4Jazz, it was in Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman’s final number in their concert in the recently refurbished Old Grammar School, Coventry.   To put this in context, situated in the front row were the Mayoral party, VIPs and sponsors, and following the duo’s first number, judging by the visible shock on their faces, one might reasonably assume they had probably never heard anything quite like it – squeaks and whistles around which a ‘tune’ could, on occasions, be discerned.

At the conclusion of Courtney and Zoe’s final number the ovation was so loud, the only face of horror was that of the buildings project manager – a question of whether the newly installed roof and timbers would withstand the sheer volume of the applause! Leading the standing ovation were the Mayoral party and VIPs, the face of shock replaced by one of unbridled pleasure. 

Heulwen, effacing as ever, was quick to praise all involved, but it was her vision, and her energy and enthusiasm that caused the timbers of the Old Grammar School to rattle as never before, and perhaps, hopefully, minds opened to the world of Jazz. 

She inspired numerous young people with the education projects she organised around the country. Along the way, she raised finance from every conceivable source. Sponsors, charitable trusts, foundations and arts bodies were wowed by her infectious enthusiasm and her determination to make things happen whatever the obstacles.

Heulwen started her career in commercial sales and marketing with over ten years each at Steinway & Sons and then Newsquest, a large weekly newspaper group. She had always wanted to work in the arts and, always the self-starter, she initiated numerous projects with artists such as John Dankworth, Julian Joseph, Mark Latimer, Sarah Brightman, Shakin Stevens, Asif Sirkis, Mario Castronari. Ever eventful, she sought out unusual venues bringing music to mines, barns, village halls, timber warehouses, parks and lakes, in addition to the more regular theatres and concert halls. And she didn’t limit herself to the UK. She also produced events in China, Norway, Italy, Slovakia and Paraguay.

Before joining JazzUK, she was Development Manager for Armonico Consort, a major regional arts organization. There she raised the finance for their programme of over 50 concerts a year as well as award-winning recordings.

Heulwen was never one to stand still and she certainly wasn’t going to let her illness stop her. She confronted the cancer head on, taking each session of treatment as it came and working in between. Just two weeks before she died she was talking about new projects she could embark on after the next round of chemo and a week later she wrote ‘I can still contribute’, even as the doctors were giving her final prognosis.

Since then, hundreds of tributes have poured in on Facebook.

'She was a beautiful, shining, driving force of immense energy, positivity, passion and love'.

‘Great memories of working with Heulwen at Steinway.’

‘Heulwen was a brilliant and very kind person.’

‘Her kindness and good humour defined her personality.’

‘One of the kindest and loveliest people I ever worked with. She was so brave and optimistic.’

‘For me, she was immensely supportive and encouraging of my work and future – I will miss her very much and remember her words of encouragement.’


She made the world a better place. That world – of jazz, of music, of laughter and of love – is today a poorer place.

Heulwen Philips FRSA. Born 14 March 1966 - Died 8 February 2017

4 comments:

  1. Living in a different country, I wasn't aware of some of her achievements, but they don't surprise me a bit. She was a force of nature, and a wonderful, intelligent and kind woman. I was fortunate enough to be one of her friends, and will miss her.
    M.B.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gutted, what a brilliant visionary, energy and mind. Determined to forge forward and realise the project we discussed. An inspirational woman much missed. V x

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just returned from a 3 week trip to Cuba yesterday and am devastated to only now hear of Heulwen's death. We knew each other for a short time but she was an inspiration and a tireless promoter of the arts who always had time for people. I'm so sad to hear of her passing...too soon. Condolences to her family and friends.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So sorry to hear this. I last met with Heulwen in St Ives, talking about ideas to work with us at the jazz club there. Her enthusiasm for jazz was delightful to share in and I know she loved staying here. We will remember her fondly.

    ReplyDelete