Pianist Jack Wilson led the Versatile Five, one of the most popular ensembles to emerge from the variety music circuit that flourished in pre-World War II Britain. Born September 28, 1907 in the mining community of Bedworth, Warwickshire, Wilson studied piano under the tutelage of his mother, and at the age of 14 was hired as an accompanist at the local cinema. Upon graduation, he worked an accounting job at the Triumph motorcycle company before forming his own dance band. On February 21, 1927, Wilson made his debut on BBC Radio, later teaming with fellow pianist Jack Venables as the Two Knaves. In 1931 Wilson joined conductor Charles Shadwell's Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra, becoming a featured soloist on its Wednesday lunchtime appearances on the BBC; combining the technical finesse of classical music and the rhythmic acumen of jazz, he quickly grew in stature to rank among Britain's most acclaimed pianists, even winning the admiration of his idol, composer Billy Mayerl, who dedicated his "Nimble-Fingered Gentleman" to "my friend Jack Wilson." At the encouragement of BBC executives, Wilson founded the Versatile Five in 1933, so named because its other members were all multi-instrumentalists. Their debut Parlophone release Mighty Lak' a Rose was nominated as piano record of the year by Gramophone's Christopher Stone, and in 1938 the National Express appointed the group the U.K.'s "top light music" ensemble. During World War II, the Versatile Five mounted an extensive tour of Britain's military outposts -- Wilson also teamed with fellow pianist Harry Engleman to host the popular BBC program Workers' Playtime, and after the war continued their collaboration on a theater tour. As consumer tastes changed, Wilson dissolved the Versatile Five in 1952, relocating to the Worthing area and mounting a new career as a tobacconist. He also performed the occasional club date before officially retiring from music in the mid-'70s. In 2000, the Shellwood Shellac label released After All These Years, compiling vintage Versatile Five recordings spanning from 1933 to 1941. Wilson died of natural causes on January 12, 2006 at the age of 98.
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