First Ladies of Jazz

Friday 9 September 7:30 pm  — Partridge Hall at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre 

A hallmark of distinction in the world of jazz music is the assignment of royal titles to artists of stature. In this incredible concert experience, we honour Mildred Bailey (Queen of Swing), Billie Holiday (Lady Day), and Ella Fitzgerald (Queen of Jazz). Through their sophisticated jazz vocal stylings, they inspired and influenced generations of musicians creating indelible impressions that live on in the soundtracks of our lives.

As a partnership involving the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Tim Johnson (Celebration of Nations), and the TD Niagara Jazz Festival, an ensemble of three sensational female vocalists backed by a world-class jazz band comprised of JUNO and Order of Canada recipients, take us on a journey that extends from the earliest jazz vocal renderings through the Great American Songbook. Along the way, audiences learn about the improvisational musical fusion that is jazz, developed by African American, American Indian, and European harmonic structures and rhythms.

Tickets range from $5-$35, visit FirstOntario PAC’s website for details. 

All-Star Band featuring  Joe Sealy on piano; Neil Swainson on bass; Terry Clarke on drums.


Cheri Maracle (Mildred Bailey)

Faith Amour (Billie Holiday)

Ranee Lee (Ella Fitzgerald)

with Opening Act: Sean Stanley (piano & vocals) accompanied by Neil and Terry.


Mildred Bailey (February 27, 1907 – December 12, 1951)

Mildred Bailey is perhaps the largest of the unsung heroines of this magnificent art form, and furthermore an obvious first choice for the First Ladies of Jazz production. From her youth Mildred accompanied her mother to Coeur d’Alene Indigenous ceremonies where she heard and practiced the traditional songs and lyrics that would shape her unique singing style. She was definitely well respected by her peers. Singers and musicians knew full well of her groundbreaking influence on jazz vocals and on musicians like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and others. The great Tony Bennett cites her as his biggest vocal inspiration, saying “From sixteen to twenty years old…the only thing I listened to was Mildred Bailey.”

Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959)

For the nearly thirty years, up until her untimely death, Billie Holiday built a powerful and poignant career that left an amazing catalogue of pure genius. As a perfect fit for First Ladies of Jazz, her incredibly unique vocal sound and style has secured a place in all our hearts. Perhaps no other singer sang songs of heartache with more passion and real life experience as the immortal “Lady Day.” And to this day she remains one of the most admired singers in music history.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996)

Ella Jane Fitzgerald is a jazz icon. Known for her impeccable tone, diction, phrasing, intonation, timing, and improvisational ability, she collaborated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and The Ink Spots while establishing a career of virtually unparalleled acclaim. Sometimes referred to as the “First Lady of Song,” “Queen of Jazz,” or “Lady Ella,” she came to embody the genre and in so doing became universally admired and loved. Perhaps her most distinctive title may be “Queen of Scat.” Ella wasn’t just a virtuosic singer, as if that wasn’t enough. She wrote the book on SCAT!

Sean Stanley

Sean Stanley is a jazz pianist, vocalist, and bandleader of “The Sean Stanley Trio”/Quartet, from Scarborough Ontario (Turtle Island) “Canada”. Sean is one of the only “Indigenous” (Pottawatomi/Ojibwe & Acadian) musicians in Toronto and comes from a much less privileged background than the majority of his peers and contemporaries. Overcoming homelessness in his teens and being surrounded by addiction and mental health issues, these and other experiences molded him and his music greatly. These challenges prepared him to navigate the often elitist and “tribal” nature of the Toronto Jazz/music scene.

Sean’s musical journey began at the age of eleven playing the popular music of the day, starting on guitar and eventually migrating to the piano by age seventeen. Studying the Jazz & Blues greats such as Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner and of course, Billie Holiday, “jazz” music became his main focus. Beginning to perform professionally in 2014, he honed his skills as an accompanist, composer and bandleader on the bandstand and is mainly a self-taught musician.

Sean’s accomplishments include a Harlem restaurant Residency from 2015-2019, Taste of the Danforth 2019 as well as many other club dates and more recently, appearances at Jazz Bistro, Crow’s Theatre, Oud & Fuzz, SOLD-OUT performances at Reid’s Distillery’s “Gin & Jazz” as well as busking on the streets of Toronto during the pandemic to make ends meet and provide a supplemental income for himself and his musicians. Currently you can find Sean and his group playing all over the GTA and beyond, follow them on their social media for upcoming performance dates.

Cheri Maracle

Cheri Maracle is a multi-award nominated actress and singer from Six Nations of the Grand River. She has numerous film, television, and stage credits to her name. Cheri has toured all over North America performing with her band, playing at festivals and music venues, but primarily as a duo with longtime pianist Brendan Peltier. Most recently they travelled to India where Cheri performed her jazz sets, and also excerpts of her one-woman show Paddle Song. Her first album garnered much acclaim and earned seven nominations in the Indigenous music awards circuit. Since then, her follow-up album Ache of Love has kept her busy performing at specific concerts, most memorably the Songbirds and Nightingales of Turtle Island events in Toronto. While Cheri keeps busy as an actress primarily, her passion in music is expressed through her sultry, dramatic interpretations of the classic standards, and her unforgettable penned originals. Upcoming Cheri stars in the TVO and APTN series, Unsettled, and is busy creating a fourth album.

Faith Amour

Raised in Toronto church and community choirs, after studying classical voice and piano, organ and composition, Faith Amour found that her innate spontaneity, creativity, and outside the box nature drew her straight to jazz. Today Faith is an award-winning recording artist and songwriter steadily emerging on the North American jazz scene. Her warm vocals and charming personality brought audiences into her world of pure musical delight with her multilingual (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian) debut album “Bright Eyes”. It won Best Jazz CD and Best Jazz Vocal at the New Mexico Music Awards. She has sung in the presence of the First Lady of Guyana, and former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, shared the stage with Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman as a member of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, and performed alongside Canada’s own Rich Brown, Dave Restivo and Robi Botos. She recently made her European and New York City club debuts, and has paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with shows across Canada and the U.S. Her ongoing Divas tribute series includes Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone. She is in demand as a composer, conductor and as a featured vocalist for clubs and theatres, jazz orchestras, corporate and private events. She’s been a Raelette for a travelling Ray Charles tribute, and her Toronto theatre debut was in “The Reality of the Impossible Dream”. She released her live jazz album “Classics Live” Fall of 2020.

Through it all, she aims to inspire those she meets with a message of love and boundless hope for the future.

Ranee Lee

Ranee Lee is now celebrating over 45 years in Montreal, Quebec, where she enjoys a successful, multi-faceted career as one of Canada’s most popular jazz vocalists, an award-winning actress, a songwriter, and a proud author of the children’s book Nana What Do You Say?, inspired by her song of the same title, from the 1994 release, I Thought About You. Ranee has recorded twelve albums on the Justin Time label, a proud discography of acclaimed recordings that feature some of the finest jazz musicians of our time among its sidemen.

Ranee’s impressive discography is filled with masterworks: “The Musical, Jazz on Broadway”, being one of them, was a successful marriage of jazz standards and the music of Broadway. In 1994 and again in1995, Ranee received the Top Canadian Female Jazz Vocalist Award presented by Jazz Report magazine.  She has been nominated for several Juno Awards and in 2010 – won the Juno for Vocal Jazz Album of the year for her recording “Ranee Lee Lives UPSTAIRS.”  Her latest release “What’s Going On” is an inspired and deeply moving collection of originals, standards and some surprises!  Throughout her career Ranee has performed with many jazz notables, including Clark Terry, Bill Mayes, Herb Ellis, Red Mitchell, Milt Hinton, Oliver Jones and Terry Clarke, to name a few. Lee is no stranger to the road; she has toured with her own group in the United States and has played at many prestigious jazz festivals throughout Canada as well as Spain, France, England and Haiti.

For outstanding service to jazz education, at the twenty-first IAJE conference in 1994, Ranee received the International Association of Jazz Educators Award. As an educator, Ranee has been part of the University of Laval faculty in Quebec City and The Schulich School of Music of McGill University faculty for over twenty years.  She was appointed as a Member Of The Order Of Canada and in 2007 was given an award for appreciation and contribution to the development of the McGill Jazz Program by the McGill Schulich School of Music.

Joe Sealy

Joe Sealy (pianist, organist, composer) four-time JUNO Nominee and one-Time JUNO Award Winner, was born on August 16, 1939 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His early piano studies were with Oscar Peterson’s sister Daisy Peterson Sweeney and Bob Langlois in Montreal, and later with Darwyn Aitken in Toronto. In his early career he played with bands throughout Quebec before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1967 and a new career phase as Music Director/Consultant on some of the hit CBC-TV shows airing at the time including ‘Music Hop’, ‘Student Showcase’, and ‘Roundabout’. All the while, he continued to gig with all of the up-and-coming jazz players in the Atlantic, play solo piano in hotel lounges, and hold down studio work.

Sealy relocated to Toronto in 1976, playing piano in various jazz rooms and working as Musical Director for a succession of hit home-grown musicals during the ‘80s including ‘Spring Thaw’, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’, ‘Indigo’, ‘Lady Day ‘More Sweet Reason’, ‘One More Stop’, and ‘Madame Gertrude’. He has accompanied several leading American musicians and performers aopearing in Canada including Milt Jackson, Joe Williams, Buddy DeFranco, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sonny Stitt, and in 1979 toured throughout the U.S. with the celebrated ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’.

In 1997, Sealy completed a 19-city concert tour in follow-up to the release of his JUNO Award-winning CD, “Africville Suite”. Later that year he was featured in a 20-city national tour of Timothy Findlay’s “Piano Man’s Daughter” with Veronica Tennant and Sylvia Tyson. In 1998, The Joe Sealy Quartet toured Western Canada and performed for two weeks throughout Scandinavia. Recently, Sealy served as Music Director for the acclaimed “Tonya Lee Williams Gospel Jubilee” television special, and a CBC Radio ‘Words & Music’ special entitled ‘East Coasting’. For the past several years, he has been the host of a weekly radio show (“Joe Sealy’s Duets”) and currently its’ successor “Joe’s Jazz” on JAZZ.FM91 in Toronto.

Joe Sealy continues to perform, produce, compose, act, and with his Seajam Recordings partner Paul Novotny, release jazz recordings, including 2009’s “Songs”. He produced, arranged and performed on vocalist Colin Hunter’s recent release “Mostly About You”.

Terry Clarke

Terry Clarke was born in 1944, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He began displaying rhythmic aptitude at a very early age, and was just 12 years old when he began studying formally with noted drum teacher and author, Jim Blackley, Blackley was, and remains, a primary figure in Clarke’s continuing development as a musician.

In 1965, Clarke moved to San Francisco to work with the legendary saxophonist, John Handy III. He performed with Handy for the next two and a half years, during which time the Grammy nominated recording, Live at The Monterey Jazz Festival (Columbia-1966) was made. Following the John Handy experience (which included Terry’s long-time musical collaborator and friend, Don Thompson), Clarke began building his reputation for versatility by joining the world-famous pop vocal group, “The Fifth Dimension” at the height of their popularity, travelling and performed extensively with them throughout the U.S.A., Canada and Europe.

Clarke left “The Fifth Dimension” in 1970, subsequently relocating to Toronto where, for the next 15, he played an abundance of jazz in all styles, and established himself as a major figure in Toronto’s then considerable studio scene. Countless television shows, jingles and recording dates were his mainstay, as well performances in legendary Toronto jazz clubs including “George’s Spaghettti House”, “Bourbon Street”, and “Basin Street”, often working with international jazz figures including Frank Rossolino and Lenny Breau. During the same period, he also toured extensively in Japan and Europe with jazz guitar legend Jim Hall and piano great, Oscar Peterson.

Terry Clarke is an original member of the “Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass” jazz big band, recording and touring with the world-acclaimed ensemble for 25 years. In 1985, seeking greater musical challenges, Clarke moved to New York  City to pursue an exclusively jazz-oriented career. During his tenure there, he worked and recorded with The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Helen Merrill, Toots Theilemans, Ann Hampton Callaway, Red Mitchell, Marvin Stamm, Jim Hall, Bill Mays, Roger Kellaway, and Joe Roccisano, to list a few.

Having recorded over 300 albums with various jazz artists, Terry Clarke is a familiar face at jazz festivals, concert halls, and venues throughout the world. In August of 1999, he returned to Toronto, reuniting with Rob to join his exciting new ensemble, “The Rob McConnell Tentet”, Terry Clarke’s most recent CD release is “Bick’s Bag” (Triplet Records) featuring the trio of Bill Mays, Neil Swainson, and Terry Clarke, in tribute to Canadian jazz guitar legend, Ed Bickert.

Terry Clarke continues to perform and record with a number of international artists, including Nancy Wilson, Bill Mays, Renee Rosnes, Jim Hall, and Helen Merrill, as well as with an exciting line-up of Canadian musicians, among them David Braid, Jake Langley, Don Thompson, Nancy Walker, Neil Swainson, and David Occhipinti. Clarke is also an enthusiastic jazz educator, and for the past several years has been a member of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.

In 2002, Terry Clarke was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Neil Swainson

Neil Swainson was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on November 15, 1955. He began working with Paul Horn in 1975, and played in his band for two years. Neil also backed up such musicians as Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, and Sonny Stitt. In 1977, Neil moved to Toronto, which has become his home. He is very active in the local jazz scene, playing with such artists as Moe Koffman, Ed Bickert, and Rob McConnell. He has also played with many visiting jazz artists, to name a few: James Moody, George Coleman, Jay McShann, Tommy Flanagan, Lee Konitz, Joe Farrell, Slide Hampton, and Woody Shaw. Neil travelled and recorded with Woody Shaw, and Neil’s own recording, 49th Parallell (Concord Jazz 4396), features Woody Shaw on trumpet, and Joe Henderson on saxophone. In 1986 Neil began working with George Shearing. Together, they have worked with many other great artists, such as Mel Tormé, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Robert Farnon, and Diana Krall. They have travelled worldwide, and Neil has made numerous recordings with George Shearing. Neil has also recorded with a number of other artists such as Jay McShann, Doc Cheatham, Geoff Keezer, Sam Noto, Peter Leitch, Pat LaBarbera, Kevin Dean, Rob McConnell, Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky, Kirk MacDonald, and Gene DiNovi; and JMOG, a cooperative band featuring Don Thompson, Pat LaBarbera, and Joe LaBarbera. Numerous recordings on which Neil plays have won Canada’s Juno Award. More recently, Neil has been touring internationally with singer Roberta Gambarini. Neil continues to compose music and freelance extensively in the Toronto area.

First Ladies of Jazz is curated by Tim Johnson and Juliet Dunn

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, conceptual author and executive producer of the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television, Sundance Film Festival, and Hot Docs award-winning documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World, is an experienced education, museum, and arts executive who recently helped lead the development of four public memorials and parks of national significance that honour First Nations and African Canadian contributions to Canada.

As the former Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Tim managed the museum’s largest organizational group across its facilities in Washington and New York. A long list of critically acclaimed exhibits and programs (including LIVE EARTH D.C. with Al Gore) were produced during his tenure, creating an era that significantly advanced the institution’s museology and reputation.

Building upon his successful Smithsonian Institution exhibit, Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture, which led to RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World, he is the creator and producer of two touring concert productions, RUMBLE THE CONCERT, and TREATY: A Reconciliation Revelry, and co-curator with Juliet Dunn of First Ladies of Jazz

Active in his home community of Six Nations of the Grand River and with several prestigious education, arts, and journalism institutions over more than 35 years, Tim received the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture in 2016.

Juliet Dunn

Juliet Dunn’s lineage is Jamaican and English. She was born in the UK before emigrating with her family to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 1974. As a young woman she returned to Europe and settled in Paris, and in her 30’s made the Niagara region her home.

While in Paris, Juliet released her first CD single and was the lead in the French film, “L’Amerloque” (The Yankee). After 13 years of being in the entertainment industry in France, Juliet returned to Canada where she performed for film and television productions and spent two seasons in the ensemble of the renowned Shaw Festival Theatre (2002 + 2003).

After having relocated to Ontario, Juliet formed her own jazz band (Juliet Dunn Quintet) and started to perform around the Niagara region. Later, with her husband and musical partner Peter Shea, Juliet performed as a lead jazz vocalist all over the world in both French and English.

Today, Juliet is very active in the Niagara region. With Peter, she has been running the Twilight Jazz Series in Niagara for over five years ( bringing together both local and international jazz musicians. She also performs regularly in festivals and at various venues and was a radio host of ‘SUNRISE’ on JAZZ.FM91 in Toronto for three years. 

She now focuses on the TD Niagara Jazz Festival full-time, which she co-created with Peter. The duo are proud to bring this exciting summer Jazz Festival to the Niagara region featuring preeminent Canadian and internationally acclaimed jazz musicians via concerts, educational initiatives, activities, and free events. The festival, now in its fourth year, was recently named “Best New Festival in Ontario.” It is also listed in the national network of Jazz Festivals of Canada, which is committed to the development and vitality of jazz presentation:

Juliet Dunn works tirelessly to keep jazz alive, to work across musical genres and in partnership with a variety of performing arts programs and organizations, and is excited to see where her energy, efforts, and talents will take her in the future. Without a doubt, Juliet Dunn is vital to the music scene in Niagara and beyond. 

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September 9 @ 19:30
7:30 pm — 9:30 pm

$35 — Get tickets