Charlie Elgar's career is quite unique among early jazzmen, beginning with an introductory phase as a classical musician and lacking the long list of sideman affiliations that are part of the story of many other players. Elgar began studying violin at the age of 12, attending classes at the Medard Academy, Marquette University and the Coleridge Taylor School of Music. He began to be active as a player in several string ensembles based out of New Orleans. In 1903, he was performing in the Bloom Philharmonic Orchestra. The following decade he moved to Chicago where he established himself as a bandleader. His quintet worked regularly at the Fountain Inn and he also put together a 15-piece unit that played at venues such as Dreamland. Will Marion Cook utilized Elgar as a member of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, touring Europe. Upon his return to Chicago, Elgar continued leading his big bands, also branching out into some popular Milwaukee venues. By the '30s he had begun to spend most of his working hours as a teacher. He also served as president of his local musician's union for many years.