The TD Niagara Jazz Festival will kick off its summer lineup with a bang on Saturday, July 15.
In front of a group of supporters, board members and sponsors at Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate, co-creator and executive artistic producer Juliet Dunn announced eight shows over nine days, with five events taking place in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Understandably, Dunn became emotional a number of times during the announcement, with this summer being the first without her husband, Peter Shea, by her side. Shea lost his battle with cancer last August.
At the other end of the emotional scale, Dunn was excited to introduce the crowd to her father and sister.
“It’s the first time they’ve ever been here for a media launch,” she said. “They’ve been at a lot of events. But Dad has moved here now. Maybe we’ll have an after-
party at Dad’s house one of these nights.”
Jackson-Triggs was a fitting venue for the announcement, as the first concert, billed as Jazz Under the Stars, features Juno and Canadian Jazz Award winner Laila Biali and her band at the winery’s amphitheatre.
As Dunn explained, the July 15 kick-off is a bit earlier than usual. That’s because the indefatigable Dunn was determined to open the summer at the amphitheatre to mark the festival’s 10th anniversary.
As well, the choice of Biali is a tribute of sorts to Shea, the pianist and drummer who began the festival with Dunn years ago.
“During the pandemic, Laila was one of our live-streamed events,” she explained. “Peter was in hospital that day. Laila didn’t even know that Peter was ill. He emceed from the hospital in Hamilton, while I was in our studio at home, and Laila and her husband Ben were at home in Toronto. I know it means a lot to Laila, as it does for Peter and me, for her to be here for our 10th anniversary.”
Jazz Under the Stars will also feature opening sets from the John Sherwood Trio and another pianist, Nicholas Mustapha, winner of last year’s Jazz 4 the Ages youth contest.
The very next day the festival moves to the Willowbank School for the Restoration Arts. Sponsored by Andrew Humeniuk and the Brown Homestead, an historic home in rural St. Catharines, the entertainment will be provided by Alex Pangman, known as Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing. Catering for the picnic will be provided by Treadwell Cuisine.
Pangman will take the stage with Grammy-
nominated violinist Drew Jurecka and a rhythm section which includes Peter Hill on piano, Glenn Anderson on drums, and Chris Banks on bass.
The scene shifts to St. Catharines three days later for Fusion Jazz on the Roof, when the Wojtek Justyna TreeOh! appears atop the Niagara Artist’s Centre on St. Paul Street. Visiting from Poland, the TreeOh fuses funk-jazz and world music with sonic explorations incorporating traditional African instruments and throbbing synth bass lines.
It’s back to Niagara-on-the-Lake the next day, July 20, for Soul Jazz in the Vineyard. Gospel, blues, jazz, pop and R & B singer Cinnamon Jones head-lines the concert accompanied by the Quincy Bullen Trio.
“We kind of have a soft spot for Cinnamon Jones,” Dunn said. “She just brings the house down, gets everyone up dancing. She’s just a riot.”
Friday, July 21 features Berlin, Germany, musician and composer David Friedman at Henry of Pelham Winery in St. Catharines. Friedman is one of the most influential vibraphonists in the history of the instrument, having recorded and played live with the likes of Joe Henderson, Horace Silver, Jane Ira Bloom and Ron Carter.
Friedman will be joined by the cream of the Canadian jazz crop, with Lorne Lofsky on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and the legendary Terry Clarke on drums.
It all wraps up back in NOTL the following day with Music in the Park, though final venue details were being ironed out at press time. As well, later that night, Randy Stirtzinger and his trio will move the party over to the Irish Harp as the weekend house band for the first of two nights of Late Night Music Jams.
Stirtzinger will be inviting musicians and singers to join him on stage both Saturday and Sunday. Dunn says you never know who will show up. There is no admission fee for the Irish Harp shows.
Information and ticket prices for the summer series performances can be found at niagarajazzfestival.com/schedule.