It is on a sunny afternoon that Dulwich OnView sits down with Charles Cary-Elwes and his wife Jean in their home in Court Lane.
“She organises me and all my engagements” says Charles with a smile and it becomes obvious as the couple take it in turn to answer any questions. It is Jean, a singer in her own right, who is the force behind the many concerts and fundraising events at which Charles and his band of professional musicians have played over the years including at Kings College Hospital and Westminster Cathedral Choir School.
“That’s how it started,” explains Jean. “It must be over fifteen years ago that we decided that we wanted to help Dulwich Picture Gallery and offered to stage a concert inside the gallery.
At first our suggestion met with some tut-tutting as it had never been done before. Afterwards everyone was so pleased with the evening that we have been asked back every year and it is now the fourth year we are holding the concert not in the gallery but in the lovely garden. We see it as a Glyndebourne but for jazz and people bring some very elaborate picnics or book a table in the Gallery Café.
Charles might be the bandleader but he is not a professional musician. His life has been spent in the City, but he has played since he was a small child. At Oxford, Miles Kingston played bass in his band and Charles performed in cabaret supporting many contemporaries including Richard Ingrams, Noel Picarda, John Wells and Esther Rantzen. “Music has opened many doors for him” Jean recounts. A significant corporate client in the States once insisted on doing business with Charles because of his inspired piano playing.
And inspired it is, by his many idols like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Stan Getz. What Charles and his four musicians will offer is easy listening mainstream jazz, the kind that gets your feet tapping. The concert will also feature bands from Dulwich College, JAGS, The Charter School and Dulwich Prep London (performing for the first time). “We are really fortunate to be able to offer these splendid young musicians a platform and they certainly know how to play”.
There will be other performers including Jean, who will sing. She played in clubs, appeared on television with a folk-singing trio and worked with Marc Bolan before Charles grabbed her guitar and they married forty years ago. Charles’ son James is not performing this year as he and his wife are expecting their second child next week.
Nick Kacal, who has been playing with Charles for over 20 years, will bring his bass, Frank Walden, who first played with Charles over ten years ago, will as always play a mean tenor sax, Andy Trim will keep that rhythm going on the drums and Fiona Egan will be singing with the band.
Jean and Charles have lived in Dulwich for over thirty years and have a strong feeling for art in general and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in particular. “We love to play there and we know that these concerts bring new people to the gallery.
And for us as musicians it is a treat to play in front of such a friendly audience. It is also highly organised.” Charles points to Jean, who works tirelessly to ensure that the event is a success. “The Friends Committee is of course brilliant. Chair Jenny Sweeney with husband Brian and Jill Alexander work incredibly hard and make all the arrangements from the gallery side.”
With a successful career in stock broking and corporate finance Charles now spends any spare time playing and, in his dining room, often turned into a digital recording studio, he plays the piano, or a synthesiser or a Hammond organ. So what kind of music does Charles listen to when he relaxes? “When we go in the car it will be Mozart or Bach, mainstream jazz or even pop. The pop arrangements today are often brilliant and with digital recordings you cannot hide any mistakes.” But he is not a fan of avant garde jazz, “music should be a pleasure not a struggle” he stresses.
And that is what the audience on Saturday 29 September can expect. Pure pleasure. Bring a picnic, sip a glass of wine, lean back and just enjoy the music.
Jazz in the Garden – Tickets on sale NOW £18, £15 for Friends £5 for Students. Children under 12 come in for free.
Gardens and Gallery open from 6pm. Music 6.30-9.30pm