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Diana Panton juggles schoolroom and mainstage

“You do a lot of talking in the first couple days of school to get all your rules out there ... so it's a harder time of the year,” Panton laughs. “But it happens to be when the jazz festival is happening in Sudbury, and we're happy to be down there.
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Diana Panton is one of the Saturday headliners at the Jazz Sudbury Festival, which runs Sept. 9-13. Supplied photo.
“You do a lot of talking in the first couple days of school to get all your rules out there ... so it's a harder time of the year,” Panton laughs.

“But it happens to be when the jazz festival is happening in Sudbury, and we're happy to be down there.”

Balancing teaching and music is challenging, but worth it, said Panton, who records and tours on weekends and school holidays. “I'm passionate about it, and I sort of make time, but it's not always easy,” she said.

Speaking to NorthernLife.ca during a recent phone interview, Panton said she discovered her love of jazz as a high school senior when her dad brought out his old Ella Fitzgerald record.

Soon she was borrowing dozens of jazz CDs a week from the library and joined the Hamilton All Star Jazz Band as a singer.

Although she didn't pursue music at a post-secondary level, she said the community band for students gave her a good grounding in the basics, and even the opportunity to rub shoulders with famed musicians such as Don Thompson.

After she aged out of the band, Thompson encouraged her to attend the Banff Centre for the Arts, where he was an instructor.

“After that he said 'When you're ready to record, you can give me a call,' which was a phenomenal offer from one of Canada's very best jazz artists,” Panton said.

Eventually, she took Thompson up on his offer. On all eight of her albums, Panton is accompanied by Thompson on piano and Sudbury native Reg Schwager on guitar, and many other well-known jazz musicians.

Although it was a matter of serendipity, she said she's appreciative her albums feature top-drawer musicians.

Panton has been nominated for Juno awards four times, and this past spring, she won the Juno for best vocal jazz album for her album RED. But she said she's not too stuck on winning awards.

“In all truth, I think you have to make your music without that in mind,” she said. “I'm always pleasantly surprised and happy for the album if it gets nominated or if it wins, it's even better. But I've also done albums of which I'm fairly proud that didn't get nominated at all.”

The musician said she's looking forward to Jazz Sudbury, where she's set to take the stage at the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre Saturday at 8 p.m. (also check out a more intimate performance at Oscar's Grill at 3 p.m. that day).

While Schwager has another commitment, Panton will be accompanied by Thompson, as well as bassist Neil Swanson and trumpeter Guido Basso.

“I have never been before to Sudbury,” Panton said, adding she plans to try out her French-speaking skills on the city's francophone population. “It's always fun to play for a new audience. I look forward to that very much.”

Jazz Sudbury runs Sept. 9-13. To purchase tickets, or to view the full schedule, visit www.jazzsudbury.ca.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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