Jean Darke smiles as she reels off the line-up of bands and artists she has booked for new season of jazz concerts at Oxford’s St Giles Church.

“It might be the best we’ve had yet,” she says, unable to hide her excitement. “It’s a fabulous festival of the joy of jazz.”

Taking place every autumn for the past seven years, Jazz at St Giles has brought talented artists from around Europe to the almost 900 year-old church, attracting lovers of trad, swing, bebop and cool jazz.

Since the first trumpet note was sounded, thousands have been raised for charities, including War Child, Save the Children and the church’s own improvement funds. And Jean, a former professional singer from North Oxford, is the driving force behind it.

Jean organised the first concert in memory of her late jazz-loving architect husband Geoffrey. But what began as a one-off event proved to be so popular that, with the backing of vicar Canon Dr Andrew Bunch, it developed into a series of high-profile shows, with acts booked by Jean relying on her contacts in the music world.

“To use a present-day term, the concerts proceeded to go ‘viral’,” smiles Jean.

“They now have an enthusiastic following of jazz fans and their name has engendered such prestige that jazz musicians worldwide are clamouring to play our autumn festival.”

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This year’s season includes a mix of old favourites and new names. It kicks off on Saturday with the Chris Ingham Quartet, who perform a musical tribute to the saxophonist Stan Getz with Mark Crooks on tenor sax.

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“So many people remember Getz’s Girl from Ipanema number with Astrid Gilberto’s plaintive singing accompanying him,” says Jean. It should be a wonderful show.”

It continues on October 12 with pianist Nadine Andre and Paul Cavacuiti, drummer, in a show subtitled ‘It Had to be Two: How to Survive a Musical Marriage’.

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Brickwork Lizards

The season also includes a show by Jazz at St Giles’s honorary patron Jacqui Dankworth (November 30) – daughter of Dame Cleo Laine and the late Johnny Dankworth and a separate show by Jacqui’s husband, the Memphis-born jazz pianist and singer, Charlie Wood (October 26).

There are also shows by the Rob Terry Trio (November 9), Oxford University Big Band Donut Kings (November 23), Oxford ‘Turkobilly’ band Brickwork Lizards (December 7) and Italian alto sax virtuoso Tommaso Starace (December 14).

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Jean says: “It’s difficult to single out any one concert in this glittering line up, but a new departure for us is the advent of a big band concert, with the university big band, the Donut Kings playing Duke Ellington and other standards

“Also returning by demand are the exotic Brickwork Lizards, with their Turkish-Arabian-jazz-rap mixture of foot-tapping music. The star turns that attract jazz fans are of such a calibre that many artists are asked to perform again and again at the festival.”

For Jean, and the Rev Cannon Bunch, the series is not just a way of staging great music in a stunning setting but about bringing people together.

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“Our enlightened vicar feels that pivotal points provided by buildings such as this beautiful church should welcome people to enjoy not just music making, religious, or liturgical, but other activities which bring people together to enjoy each other’s company,” she says. “After all, in medieval times, churches hosted dancing, music-making of all kinds and even travelling theatrical groups.

“And as if the music itself isn’t heartwarming enough, then the fact that you’re supporting such worthy causes will give you a warm glow.”

* Full details from Tickets are £18 (concs available)

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The start, this Saturday, of the new season of Jazz at St Giles is not only music to the ears of music lovers.

Since being launched by Jean Darke, the Rev Cannon Andrew Bunch, and their team of saintly volunteers, the concerts have raised £34,526 pounds and 10 pence) for War Child, Save the Children and the charity Combat Stress. The latter provides support for servicemen and women who suffer post traumatic stress disorder and other mental problems incurred either through combat or natural disasters.

It also supports the church’s own St Giles Music Academy.

The academy trains young people, between seven and 18, in singing, piano, organ and other instruments. An emphasis is placed on children from less privileged backgrounds.

The church is a beacon of musical talent. Its bellringers are legendary and the St Giles Choir regularly tours, going as far as Italy. Jean says: “It’s another thrilling chance for the young musicians to socialise, and many friendships have bloomed from the choir’s regular practices.”

The church also relies on the support of well-wishers, not least the Old Parsonage Hotel, right next door, which provides wine, which is sold for donations to punters, and the sound and lighting maestros of Oxford Brookes University under David Carugo.

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Jean adds: “The atmosphere at the jazz concerts is relaxed and heart-warming, helped by the delicious wines and nibbles provided by our long-time sponsors, The Old Parsonage Hotel.

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Nadine Andre and Paul Cavacuiti

“We are also indebted to the glamorous lighting and sound engineers from Oxford Brookes who help enhance the church’s beautiful interior.”

She adds: “These concerts are not just for jazz aficionados, but for everyone who enjoys tuneful, cerebral even, harmonious and lyrical music.

“Jazz should not be confused with noisy pop music.

“And above all, these concerts raise incredible sums for charities.”