"Festivals Bring People Together to Celebrate Life"
Photo from the 2018 TD Niagara Jazz Festival.
This month's edition of Destination Niagara Falls features an exclusive interview with the brilliant and beautiful soul behind the TD Niagara Jazz festival
, Executive Director, Artistic Producer and Co-Creator: Juliet Dunn
The TD Niagara Jazz Festival has grown from a weekend series to a massive and growing multi-venue, multi-event that is spearheading a movement towards Jazz in the region. What inspired you to found the festival?
I came to Niagara in 2002 to become a member of the acting ensemble at Shaw Festival
and immediately fell in love with the Niagara Region
. Later that year I started to perform with a local jazz band. I've always loved the genre but had never pursued a jazz career though I had studied and sung jazz while living in France. Over the years I worked with various jazz musicians and started to perform in various wineries and for private and corporate events. In 2006, I met Peter Shea
(who is now my husband and my musical partner) and we started to perform together. We went overseas as a jazz duo but were always happy to return to Niagara each summer. We did 5 winters like that until I began to work as a radio host at Jazz FM 91.1. It was around that time that we thought of doing a weekly jazz series. We called it the Twilight Jazz Series
and we started it the same month as my new job at the radio station in 2011.
After a year of the series, which featured local jazz musicians and a few of our own bands, we thought of planting the seed for a festival. It just made sense. We were constantly performing at the various wineries and it was a perfect fit. In August of 2013 we created an event called 'Twilight Jazz on the Beach' to get the idea out there of us moving towards a festival by hosting jazz events outside. Then we decided to really go for it and we founded the Niagara Jazz Festival as a not-for-profit organization in April of 2014 and hosted our first festival in NOTL that August. Venues included Jackson-Triggs Winery
, Stratus Vineyards
, Oast House Brewery
and more... The time felt right. As an outsider looking in at Niagara (Peter is born and raised in St. Catharines) I could see so much potential in the region. I've always loved music festivals and one big inspiration has always been Peter Gabriel's WOMAD
(World of Music and Dance) Festival I attended in Reading, England when I lived in Europe in the 1990s. Festivals bring people together to celebrate life and there's truly nothing quite like it.
For Peter and I International Jazz Day is a very important day that recognizes all of the founding mothers and fathers of the jazz genre as well as the new and emerging artists. Our main goal and mandate of the festival is to keep this musical genre alive for many generations to come and we enjoy introducing the jazz genre to many new ears in idyllic Niagara settings like Vineyards, Parks, and unique spaces. We always host an event either on International Jazz Day or close to it. This year we have our 'Tap, Tapas and Taps
' event on May 2nd which is a part of our LIVE LEARN JAZZ: Women of the hour series
. Last year we announced one artist per hour on social media on International Jazz Day and this was very exciting. We will be doing the same thing this year. The world needs more jazz and music in general now because it is vital to every human beings soul.
What does music mean to you? How has it changed your life?
Music is everything to Peter and I. It can express all types of emotions; it calms us; it brings us joy; it brings people together; it's an international language and so much more. The best thing music has done for me is that it has united Peter and I. To have a soul partner for life that you can make music with is a dream come true! And music has also given me the opportunity to create and run a music festival which does so many things on so many levels: The festival provides unique experiences, allows people to connect and make new friends, it provide musicians employment and wineries and other local businesses revenue, and most important it provides joy!
Photo by Bill Beard, TD Niagara Jazz Festival Volunteer
Who are your musical inspirations?
In jazz I've always loved Billie Holiday (who was my first introduction to jazz), Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald and many many more. In the 1990s when I lived in Paris and worked at a jazz club (Le New Morning) I saw and met many incredible touring jazz artists. One voice I'll never forget is that of Jimmy Scott. He was a lovely man with a fragile and a unique voice. Some of the living jazz vocalists I adore listening to are Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Diane Reeves. I also met and saw them all perform where I worked at New Morning so that was a special thrill as well.
What other amazing things can we expect from the Dunn and Shea duo in the near future? Where is the festival heading next?
We have a new initiative this year called 'Niagara's Summer MARDI GRAS
' and we're SO excited about it! The festival is happy to have these two weekends (one in St. Catharines and one in NOTL) and we envision events in Niagara Falls in the near future. The goal has always been to host events in the entire Niagara Region as it has so much to offer. Hopefully, we'll continue to get enough support to keep it going for many years to come. There's nothing like being able to program great musicians and create life-changing moments for audience members, musicians and volunteers alike.
Graham Lear Trio: TD Niagara Jazz Festival