‘Just a great guy,’ musician Peter Shea dies at age 50

·4 min read

Funny, mischievous and sweet are a few words Juliet Dunn uses to describe her late husband and musical partner, Peter Shea.

“(He’s) always making people laugh. (He’s) really, really sweet, the kind of person who doesn’t have a bad bone in their body,” Dunn told The Lake Report.

The 50-year-old jazz musician died Sunday morning after battling prostate cancer.

Dunn said he had a wonderful last, physical day on Earth. Friends and family stopped by to see him, including his father, which was very important to Shea. She said he had a smile on his face when he died.

“It was a beautiful last day and he passed peacefully, which was wonderful because he’d been in pain for a long time,” she said.

Shea co-founded the TD Niagara Jazz Festival with Dunn, whom he met in 2006. Before the jazz festival, the duo performed together around the world.

They were inseparable and often played together as the Shea D Duo.

Shea grew up in St. Catharines surrounded by music. Though his dad was a lawyer, he loved to play the piano. His sister performed as a concert pianist and his mom loved to dance.

“If you walked by our house when we were in high school, you could often hear me upstairs practising Chopin while Peter was going to town on the drum kit downstairs,” Shea’s sister, Heather Shea Lanners, said in an email to The Lake Report.

“Those of us lucky enough to know him and love him knew that he had a beautiful spirit, and an enormous love for those close to him,” she added.

He graduated from the University of Toronto’s jazz performance and composition program, where his musical instrument was the drums. He also played the piano and was a talented singer.

“(He had a) really beautiful voice. He did a really great imitation of Louis Armstrong that would always bring the house down,” Dunn said with a laugh.

Anybody who knew Shea recognized he was a very funny, mischievous guy, always the class clown, she said.

Shea loved to make people laugh. He loved to do imitations and accents of different characters.

Even when he lost the ability to play his instruments, Shea didn’t show any anger. Dunn said he adapted even though he couldn’t play with his right hand any more.

But when his friends brought him a keyboard nine days ago so that he could jam, he did. And he loved it.

“He was adapting. He was in his hospital bed at home and his friends had brought him the keyboard (and put it) across his bed so that he could jam,” said Dunn.

Shea and Dunn loved to travel together, and especially enjoyed the beach. One of Dunn’s fondest memories was the last time they went to Negril, Jamaica, in 2021.

Shea wasn’t in the best shape and could barely walk, making it really hard to get him there.

“But you know what? I’m so glad we made it,” said Dunn through tears.

They spent about 12 days in Jamaica. Shea, using a walker, would walk down to the beach, get into the ocean and float around.

On the same trip, while Shea was in the washroom, Dunn asked a band that was playing live music if her husband could sit in with them. She reassured them that he was really good.

“So then when Peter came out of the bathroom, I said, ‘Hey, honey, I’ve volunteered your services,’ ” Dunn said with a laugh.

When he got up on stage, you wouldn’t know he was ill, she said.

Dunn said she’s thankful for music because without it Shea’s journey would have been a lot shorter.

One of his musical highlights as a musician was as a drummer for the Just for Laughs Road Show. He also toured across Canada with comedian Sean Cullen, performed for a month at the famous Edinburgh Comedy Festival and also played piano with the “Jersey Boys” stage musical in Toronto.

She said Shea’s dad Michael told her his son always managed to find something positive about a person or situation.

“Peter worked hard to be able to give the gift of music to others,” Michael said.

On top of performing, he also taught drums, piano and vocals to students.

“He was just a consummate musician and just a great guy,” said Dunn.

A memorial service will be held on Sept. 12 at Club La Salle in St. Catharines from 2 to 4 p.m. A celebration of life is also being held that day at White Oaks Resort. Due to the venue size, the celebration is by invitation only.

A tribute concert is planned in Shea’s honour on Sept. 30 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from 7 to 10 p.m.

Dunn summed him up succinctly: “If somebody hadn’t ever met Peter, I’d say they’d meet the sweetest, funniest, goofiest, loveliest, most talented guy and musician you’ve ever met.”

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report