The TD Niagara Jazz Festival continues its 2021 season Friday, April 30 with its celebration of International Jazz Day.
In keeping with the “International” theme, executive director/artistic producer Juliet Dunn has lined up talent from Holland (by way of Cuba), the U.S. and just down the QEW in Hamilton (via St. Catharines) for an eclectic and varied survey entitled Celebrating the Jazz Greats.
St. Catharines native James Bryan headlines the show, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday. Fans of the Jazz Festival may remember Bryan as the first musician to be presented via the Festival’s Facebook page last March. As the pandemic hit, Dunn flew into motion to find an alternative to the live appearance for which Bryan had been scheduled. He ended up playing for about an hour from his home in Hamilton.
For this week’s show, he’ll once again be live from his home, and once again, it’s an online gig to replace an in-person performance that had been planned before the current provincial restrictions were in place.
“I’ve been working with a singer from Hamilton, AJ Harvey,” he explains. “We were planning to do a show as a duo (at White Oaks), but that got canned for now. When Juliet reached out about International Jazz Day, I definitely put my hand up when she asked.”
Bryan, a Juno and Latin Grammy Award-winning guitarist, producer and songwriter, has worked with James Blunt, Fefe Dobson, Nelly Furtado, Jason Mraz and many others. He will be paying tribute Friday to the great collaborations between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Because Harvey is not in his COVID bubble, however, he’ll be handling the tribute solo.
It won’t be a problem for him to tackle those standards alone. His solo guitar versions of Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved, and Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, from his 2017 album By Your Side, give those modern-day standards a fresh, Latin-influenced feel, shedding new light on the well-known numbers. He’s sure to bring more of the same Friday night.
The show begins at 7 p.m. with Cuban-born pianist Abel Marcel (full name: Abel Marcel Calderon Arias). Now living in the Netherlands, Marcel is a classically-trained composer, arranger, producer, pianist, band leader and educator. The skilled improviser has recorded in styles from hip hop to salsa, as well as jazz and classical.
“He’s going to do some Jelly Roll Morton,” enthuses Dunn. “And he’ll do some Latin jazz and explain how the influence of Latin jazz fits into the world of jazz. He’ll tie all that together.”
Also on the bill Friday is a duo from western New York. Bassist Chris Northington hails from Rochester, while vocalist DeeAnn Dimeo was born in Niagara Falls, NY.
“I’ve known Chris for probably 20 years,” says Dunn. “We’ve brought him over to do a gig, and he’s come over to jam a few times, but we’ve never featured him before in the festival. With the border closed, we figured it would be fun to have him as part of this show.”
Dunn reveals that the duo will be performing the Irving Berlin classic Blue Skies as well as My Funny Valentine, written by Rodgers and Hart and made famous by Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, among many others. Rounding out their pre-recorded set will be a Dimeo original composition and a jazzed-up version of a Michael Jackson number.
Following Friday’s show, the Jazz Festival continues on Sunday, May 2 with local duo Vox Violins as part of the Twilight Jazz Series.
Billed as 40 Years With Music, it promises to be a night of nostalgia, as husband and wife duo Mark Clifford and Beth Bartley look back on four decades of playing their Celtic-flavoured take on folk, rock and blues all across the region. Interspersed with their music will be video clips and plenty of stories gathered over that time. The show will be opened by young up-and-comers Alex George and Dexter Frank, two current Humber College music students.
Future dates in the series include Khea Emmanuel performing the songs of Natalie Cole on May 30, and a tribute to Bill Evans featuring the Doug Mundy Duo scheduled for June 6. St. Catharines-born vocalist Sarah Jerrom and her band Dream Logic celebrate their debut CD release with a hometown show on June 20, while the series wraps up July 4 with a soul-oriented performance by Jillian Mendez of Ajax, Ontario.
Like last year, Dunn is holding out hope that most of these events, as well as the annual Summer Mardi Gras celebration scheduled for July 24 and a three-day Emancipation Day celebration being organized in concert with the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, will be held in front of an in-person audience.
“We keep planning for the worst-case, which is just online,” she says, “because at least you’re not disappointed, and at least you know you have the show. And we’re employing musicians, and we’re bringing music to the people.”
But when things open up, they’ll be taking the Twilight Jazz shows to partner restaurants, and livestream from there, she says.
International Jazz Day: Celebrating the Jazz Greats is a free livestreamed show. The Twilight Jazz Series events are ticketed, and there are Dinner and a Show options available. The Jazz Festival is also offering a season pass at one low price. Visit niagarajazzfestival.com for more information.