Musician of note and voice of jazz on radio

Charles “Chas” Meredith: January 16th, 1933 – October 9th, 2013


Musician, solicitor, radio presenter, railway conservationist, ornithologist – no single word is sufficient to describe Charles “Chas” Meredith, who has died aged 80. Indeed, even one name is insufficient, as he would have been known to many music fans, and particularly to RTÉ radio listeners, as Rock Fox, noted saxophonist and mellifluous voice of jazz on Irish radio during the 70s.

About each of his diverse interests, he was both passionate and hugely knowledgeable, and his passing will touch many parts of Irish life.

Charles Richard Martin Meredith was born in Dublin in 1933, the only son of solicitor Raymond Meredith. His mother, Sylvia, died when he was just seven, and as he told The Irish Times in an interview last year, at first his father didn’t know what to do with a seven- year-old boy – until he remembered his old ukulele. It was to be a fateful gift: music, and particularly jazz, would become a consuming passion for the rest of Meredith’s life.

When his father remarried, Meredith acquired a devoted stepmother, Dorothy, who was a talented pianist, and a stepbrother, Dan, with whom he attended Newtown School in Waterford. The boys became close friends and remained so for the rest of their lives.

Fifth generation
Meredith was the fifth generation of his family to enter the legal profession in Dublin, initially with the family firm, WR Meredith & Son of Molesworth Street and latterly, in partnership with solicitor John Sides, at MacMahon & Tweedy in Hume Street, where he worked until his retirement in 1984.

He was a devoted birdwatcher and wildlife enthusiast and took a regular part in the Irish Wetland Bird Survey, which involved long hours wading through the shallows of the river Shannon noting the activities of curlews.

For most of his life, he kept a cottage on the shores of Killary harbour in Connemara and he loved the outdoor life which this afforded.

Having spent part of his childhood in Foxrock, in a house that backed onto the old Harcourt Street line, he developed a life-long interest in trains. Though he gave up an early ambition to become a railway engineer in favour of the family legal tradition, in later life he became an active member of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. With his customary enthusiasm, he was involved in the restoration of several important steam locomotives and carriages, about which he had a compendious knowledge.

But his greatest passion was music. Though ostensibly an amateur for much of his life, he played several instruments to a professional standard, including the baritone saxophone and the trumpet, a most unusual doubling which involved very different technical challenges.

As Rock Fox, Chas became a prominent member of the Irish jazz community, and his long-running sessions in Slattery’s of Capel Street during the 1970s were central to the development of the music in Ireland. His knowledge of his favourite subject, Duke Ellington, was extensive and detailed, and many musicians remember with fondness the meticulous transcriptions of Ellington arrangements that he would bring to the bandstand.

Sunday show
He hosted a radio show on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday nights during the 1970s, where he was known for his witty and erudite introductions to records, which often took up as much time as the music. He interviewed Ellington for RTÉ Radio and when the great bandleader came to Dublin in the early 1970s, he invited Chas to join him for a drink at the Gresham Hotel. The noted US baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan became a particular friend and was a frequent guest of Chas and his wife, Ann, at their beloved house and gardens in Foxrock.

In later life, he became a valuable source of information for younger musicians and a vital link with the music of an earlier era. He became friendly with noted bassist and educator Ronan Guilfoyle, and gave generously of his time in helping to educate the students at Newpark Music Centre about the music of his beloved Ellington.

When he was diagnosed with leukaemia last Christmas, he contacted Guilfoyle and arranged to bequeath much of his vast and valuable collection of books and records to the school for the benefit of future generations of Irish jazz musicians.

He is survived by his partner, Fiona Lee, and by his wife, Ann.