The great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This was the challenge I ran into while trying to put together how to best write about the TD Niagara Jazz Festival. It’s very hard to put into words and properly express the essence of jazz music. I grew up with jazz music. It’s the first genre that I have any memories of. My father, in his youth, along with his brothers, formed a jazz quintet that was renowned throughout the region. To this day,
he still enjoys strumming his vintage Gibson acoustic guitar. The sounds of Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, just to mention a few, were always playing somewhere in the background of my life. In turn, I developed a love of jazz and
have enjoyed the enduring melodies of Billie Holiday and Wynton Marsalis as well as the more modern jazzy sounds of Chicago and Van Morrison.
Niagara’s music scene has historically not had a huge jazz influence. Enter Juliet Dunn and her husband and musical collaborator, Peter Shea. This dynamic jazz duo truly has a passion for music and life! Peter himself has always believed that Niagara has the potential to be the ‘New Orleans of the North’. Juliet also believes that the festival could one day be as important to the world jazz scene as the Montreal Jazz Festival is. It all started with an outdoor event that the duo put together in August of 2013. It was here, down by Lake Erie on Crystal Beach, that “Twilight Jazz on the Beach” was born. From there, the idea of putting together an actual jazz festival came to their minds. Peter and Juliet did their research to find that neither the organization nor the domain name, Niagara Jazz Festival, belonged to anyone so it was theirs for the taking. They also found out that jazz events in the Niagara Region were typically one-day events.
Because the duo had been performing for events in wine country for years, they knew that a jazz festival in wine country would be a perfect marriage. The festival itself actually began with a weekly series called, “The Twilight Jazz Series”. The duo would hire local Niagara jazz artists and feature one of their own bands monthly as well – The Shea D Duo, Le Trio Parisien (Juliet’s French band) or the Peter Shea Trio. As the series gained momentum with locals, Brock University and the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre took notice, realizing that Juliet and Peter were creating a jazz scene in the Niagara Region. Both wanted to help in not only keeping it going, but also in growing it. The current Twilight Jazz Series wound down its 8th season in June and will resume in November.
On the first Sunday of every month at Mahtay Café and Lounge in St. Catharines, you can expect to hear the best from this duo who has also expanded the series to include Niagara-on-the-Lake on the 3rd Sunday of every month. In reality, the TD Jazz Festival is an ongoing event with music playing year-round at multiple venues. It has brought to the region, great jazz music for your listening pleasure, featuring talented established artists, and emerging young artists. The festival in its 3rd year officially became one of the ‘Jazz Festivals of Canada’ and also won ‘Best New Festival in Ontario’ in 2017. Peter Shea’s and Juliet Dunn’s vision to make Niagara the “New Orleans of the North”, will be brought to life this summer. Going into its 6th year, the festival will feature “Niagara’s Summer Mardi Gras”, on Saturday, July 20th at the Henley Grandstand in Port Dalhousie, from 4pm to 11pm.
The summer portion of the festival will culminate with two fun-filled weekends in St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the- Lake, celebrating music, life, and art the last two weekends in July. There will be an incredible lineup at various venues which will take place rain or shine. Since its inception, Peter and Juliet have grown the TD Niagara Jazz Festival incredibly with last year boasting 265 musicians and 77 performances from various bands. Over the years the duo has presented and provided employment for thousands of musicians which has brought them both so much pleasure. They do what they love for a living, which is evident in the passion the pair have for this festival. Their wish is the same for all artists. The scope of this festival is just too huge to be able to do it proper justice in one feature. The best advice I can give to anyone out there, whether you are a newcomer to the genre or a true jazz aficionado and enthusiast, is to check out their website. You will get all of the ins and outs and where to be along with ticket and Season Pass prices. So, pick your place… “drum on your drums…sob on the long cool winding saxophones…dig the jive of the cool cats”, and let the sounds of music show you that hipness is not a state of mind, it’s a fact of life! TM