HISTORY OF THE TD NIAGARA JAZZ FESTIVAL

Peter Shea and Juliet Dunn are local Niagara based jazz musicians and have a passion for music and life!

The duo met in Niagara in 2006 and have been making music together ever since. Peter is an accomplished jazz drummer, pianist and vocalist and Juliet came to jazz at a later age after having dabbled in theatre, film & tv, voice work, and the pop music industry. Juliet came to Niagara after 13 years in Paris, France to work at the esteemed Shaw Festival as an actress for 2 seasons and has made Niagara her home ever since.

In the winter of 2007 the duo started doing overseas performance contracts together and the first took them to Hong Kong. From 2007 – 2011 every winter they had the opportunity to go to many different countries to experience the various cultures and all the while performing together. Morocco, French Polynesia, Brazil, the Caribbean and many more. Then in 2011 Juliet landed a job as a radio host for Toronto’s Jazz.FM 91.1. Her show was called ‘Sunrise with Juliet Dunn’ and it aired every Saturday and Sunday morning from Oct 2011 – Oct 2014. At this time the duo decided to start a jazz series (the Twilight Jazz Series) as they knew they wouldn’t be going off on long contracts while Juliet worked in radio.

The Twilight Jazz Series started out as a weekly 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. This was a good economic model to help keep the series sustainable. As the series grew it obtained support from Brock University and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre that was at that time 3 years away from breaking ground. The PAC recognized that the duo was creating a jazz scene in the Niagara Region and wanted to help keep it going. And so they did. With this assistance the duo could then step aside to bring in other artists that they had always wanted to feature. Such greats as Mike Murley, Heather Bambrick, Kevin Turcotte, Reg Schwager, the Heavyweights Brass Band, Barbra Lica and many more. Their Twilight Jazz Series is now been moving into it’s 8th season and it takes place on the first Sunday of every month at Mahtay Café and Lounge from November – June. It has become a favourite hang for many in the Niagara Region and now the duo has decided to expand the series to include Niagara-on-the-Lake on the 3rd Sunday of every month..

In 2013 the duo decided to try an outdoor event and they called it ‘Twilight Jazz on the Beach’. They produced the August event down by Lake Erie on Crystal beach to let the fans know that they were leaning towards a summer festival. The TJS on the Beach event was a valiant effort. To cut down on costs the duo featured their own band and were also the sound team, roadies, marketers and promoters. It was the birthplace of a lot of the ideas they have now put into place with the festival. Music in a beautiful Niagara setting, Lindy Hop dancers giving free dance lessons and so forth. But it was a lot of work without a team! So then the duo started to seriously think about starting up and producing a festival. They started to do their research. No one owned the organization or domain name (Niagara Jazz Festival) at that time and there were only one day jazz events in the Niagara Region but not a multi-day festival. Earlier on in 2008 a gentleman the duo had met called Michael Reason had run a Niagara Jazz Festival once under the organization of ‘Music on the Henley’. He no longer lived in Niagara and the duo spoke with him to see if their plans would conflict with his and they did not. He was happy to see that 6 years after his efforts the duo had decided to create their own festival. And as the duo has been performing for events in Wine Country for years they knew that a jazz festival in wine country would be a perfect fit.

Peter Shea’s family and the Robertson family had known each other since the 1970’s and Joe and Peter were reacquainted in 2007 when Joe stumbled upon the duo performing their holiday album at Chapters. From that day forward Joe Robertson started to study voice and piano with Peter and was one of his best students. The duo performed for the Robertson’s on several occasions and as Joe was an exceptional business man Juliet and Peter decided to ‘pick his brain’ one morning before his lesson in November of 2013. Juliet had a list of questions for Joe and the last one was: ‘Joe, we’re thinking of starting up a Niagara Jazz Festival’ would you like to be involved?’ And much to Juliet’s surprise, Joe immediately said” ‘Yes!’. And it was 8 months after that meeting that that the 3 of them gave birth to the first annual TD Niagara Jazz Festival in August of 2014.

In year one they did not write any grants or get any government funding but Juliet insisted that they pursue as she could feel a ‘shift’ in Niagara. This was the year to do it. Joe suggested Jackson-Triggs as a venue as the stage is there throughout the summer but not always used. Then it grew ‘organically’. Juliet had worked and performed at Stratus Vineyards (just next door) and thought they might want to be involved. Next door to that was Oast House partially owned by another friend of Juliet and Peter’s, and so it grew from there.

Year one ended up being in Niagara-on-the-Lake only but the vision of the duo had always been to bring jazz to the entire Niagara Region. Peter has always believed that Niagara has the potential to be the ‘New Orlean’s of the North’ and now going into it’s 6 year that is exactly where the festival is headed. Juliet also believes that the festival could one day hbe as important to the world jazz scene as the Montreal Jazz Festival is. The festival in its 3rd year officially became one of the ‘Jazz Festivals of Canada’ and won ‘Best New Festival in Ontario’ in its 4th year in 2017.

Other highlights along the way are the youth program that the duo started: ‘Jazz 4 the Ages’ Youth program, and educational and fun series called the LIVE LEARN JAZZ SERIES, and their Music of a Charlie Brown Xmas that is now featured at the FirstOntario Performing Arts centre. And in year 5 the duo introduced a World Music Event called WORLD MUSIC on the BEACH that was very well received by the community

The duo has grown the festival from the ground up and last year the festival boasted 265 musicians and 77 performances from various bands. Over the years the duo has presented and provided employment for 1000’s of musicians and this is such a pleasure for them. They do what they love for a living and wish the same for all artists.