At the Twilight Jazz & Blues Series, it may be the musicians who play the tunes, but in a way, the star is the venue’s grand piano.
“The show is all about the piano,” TD Niagara Jazz Festival co-founder Juliet Dunn told The Lake Report.
Dunn’s late husband Peter Shea inherited the piano from his father.
Shea co-founded the not-for-profit TD Niagara Jazz Festival with Dunn in 2014. He died last August after battling prostate cancer.
It costs about $400 to move a grand piano, said Dunn, so they wanted to find a more permanent location and build a series around the instrument.
“Whichever venue we need to do the show at, they need to keep the piano,” she said.
Since last fall, its home has been the Hare Wine Co. on Niagara Stone Road.
The Twilight Jazz & Blues Series, which runs on the first and third Monday of each month, will host its final two shows in town on May 15 and June 5.
Once the Twilight Jazz & Blues Series wraps up in June, her focus will be on the TD Niagara Jazz Festival in July.
The summer festival will run from July 15 to 23.
To prepare, Dunn is holding a spring fundraiser at the Hare on Sunday, May 6 to raise money for the summer festival.
She picked the Hare to host the fundraiser not only because she enjoys the atmosphere, but also because Shea’s grand piano is there.
The original Twilight Jazz Series started in 2011 at Mahtay Café and Lounge in St. Catharines and still runs once a month.
It wasn’t until February 2022 that Dunn and Shea introduced the Twilight Jazz & Blues Series to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Dunn said she also likes to call the series Niagara’s Jazz Club.
The NOTL series was held at Spirit of Niagara last spring before moving to the Hare, a “mutually beneficial” partnership, Dunn said.
“The Hare is a perfect match for us. They’re very engaged in what we do and that’s what we need,” said Dunn.
Moving the series gave people the opportunity to experience a new venue, Dunn said.
“The location of the Hare is excellent as well because we get people from Grimsby (and) Niagara Falls because it’s just off the highway,” she said.
Since January, there have been eight shows at the Hare. Many have sold out.
Dunn said each performance draws between 70 and 120 people.
She realizes jazz is often used as background music, but said that’s not the case at the Hare.
The audience at the Hare, she said, is a “real listening crowd,” engaging with and paying attention to the performers.
“Our crowd knows that they’ll get shushed if they’re talking too loud during the show because people are there to respect the art form,” said Dunn.
“And that’s super important for us,” she added.
Dunn loves interacting with the performers and getting to know them. She admires their talent and dedication to jazz.
Dunn said jazz musicians “put in at least 10,000 hours to get as good as they are.”
“I don’t know if people realize how talented jazz musicians are,” she said.
The Hare has been hosting Soul Jazz in the Vineyard during TD Niagara’s Jazz Festival every summer since 2016.
She said she values her partnership with the Hare, and has enjoyed working with the winery over the years.
“This is the first time ever that we’ve done stuff outside of the summer festival with them,” she said.
The owner, John Hare, and the staff have been wonderful, she said, and she appreciates how invested the winery is in the success of her series.
She’s hoping the contract with the Hare will get renewed for the fall.
“We have to renegotiate, like all contracts, but we’re very happy there,” she said.
The May 6 fundraiser runs from 7 to 10 p.m. and costs $125 a ticket.