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May. 19, 2019 | Sunday
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Women to dominate this year's Live, Learn, Jazz series
Faith D. Amour and Melissa Marie Shriner at the TD Niagara Jazz Festival media launch Feb. 25. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

The TD Niagara Jazz Festival is shining a light on the talented women of jazz through Live, Learn, Jazz – Women of the Hour.

During the festival’s media launch on Feb. 25 at the Henry of Pelham Winery, Juliet Dunn, executive director and artistic producer, along with Peter Shea, co-creator and artistic consultant, announced the 2019 line-up for the upcoming season.

Adding new events to the roster and expanding existing programs, Dunn said she is excited and eager for the season ahead.

Volunteers passed hors d’oeuvres donated by Oscar Turchi from Savoia Hors D’Oeuvres and Gourmet Emporium, one of the official catering partners. An assortment of performers, volunteers, media and enthusiastic supporters of Dunn and Shea’s endeavour to infuse jazz into the region spent the afternoon listening to specifics of the upcoming line-up.

Updates to the festival were made possible in part by funding from the City of St. Catharines Cultural Service, providing the TD Niagara Jazz Festival with $12,000. Dunn thanked Michelle Nicholls and Kathleen Powell with the St. Catharines Cultural Services, who were in attendance.

The Live, Learn, Jazz series kicks off on March 8, aptly coinciding with International Women’s Day.

Named Rhapsody at the Rotunda, the first performance will be held at the NOTL Public Library.

In an email response, Dunn said, “We will be transforming the NOTL library into an intimate upmarket ‘speakeasy’ featuring delicious nibbles and tastes of a few festival partners: Stratus Vineyards, The Hare Wine Co, Savoia Gourmet, 40 Creek Distillery and Mill Street Brewery.”

The Diana Panton Trio, with Reg Scwhager and Neil Swainson, will perform from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m and ticket price will include one drink and complimentary hors d’ouevres.

The six-part series will hold each event at unique intimate locations and will feature strong female leads. Series passes can be purchased for $199 plus HST on the TD Niagara Jazz Festival website.

Four of the headlining women attended the media launch, showing their support and excitement for the festival.

Faith D. Amour, Melissa Marie Shriner and Khea Emmanuel were recognized by Dunn and Shea as just a few of the outstanding performers to take part in the series. Stacie McGregor was included, as she skillfully provided ambience and a short performance on the keys.

The monthly concerts, each with a fun, lighthearted name, feature a variety of jazz styles integrating vocalists, tap-dancers and musicians.

The music scene is heavy in male performers, Dunn said, adding it’s especially evident in jazz. She said the genre is about 95 per cent male-dominated.

“That’s why it’s really important to highlight the females in jazz. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about one of our projects.”

After the kick-off performance on International Women’s Day, each evening boasts a unique theme: Ellington at the Exchange on March 21; Trumpet, Tunes and Tannins on April 4; Tap, Tapas and Taps on May 2; Voices in the Vines on June 6 and Sax in the Vineyard on July 4.

Dunn said, apart from the Live, Learn, Jazz series, one of the most thrilling additions to the festival is the July 20 event. Niagara’s Summer Mardi Gras will be a one-day spectacle at the Henley Regatta Bandstand in Port Dalhousie, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

“It all started with an idea,” Dunn said.

She attributed Shea with dreaming up the idea the event is based on, adding that he’s believed in it since day one.

“I always envisioned that this area could be the New Orleans of the North. That’s kind of where the idea came from,” Shea said. “I love the music of New Orleans, I feel like it’s the cradle, the birthplace of jazz.”

He added that the region holds the potential to grow into something similar.

Featuring New Orleans-style music, the event will usher the Mardi Gras spirit into Niagara, offering a variety of experiences; dancing, music, beads, a parade, Creole food, Cajun culture and more.

Dunn said jazz can be a hard pill to swallow for some, adding that there’s less interest in a straight-out jazz festival – tagging Mardi Gras onto the name garners a more enthusiastic response.

“Our unofficial tagline now is don’t tell them it’s jazz and they will come.”

Shea added that jazz is like medicine, “You need it, but you’ve got to sugar-coat it sometimes.”

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