St. Louis Bands Today
In 2008, after decades as a bandleader, Jean Kittrell retired from the Jazz Incredibles, St. Louis Rivermen, and St. Louis Levee Band, making occasional guest appearances with the groups, as in the video below of Jean with the St. Louis Rivermen in 2011. Though she left a vacancy at the piano that would not be the same, she passed the torch of leadership on to sousaphonist and partner-in-crime since the 1970s, David “Red” Lehr, and his wife Carolyn Lehr. In the same way, many former bandmembers who played with her continued on to form their own bands, such as trumpeter Steve Lilley’s St. Louis Stompers. Still others joined up with nationally recognized groups like Cornet Chop Suey Jazz Band.
As a figurehead and Red Hot Mama of the new Dixieland revival, Jean did her best to insure the continuation of an important style of jazz music. Today, evidence of her success can be heard all around St. Louis and beyond.
A New "Powerhouse" of a Bandleader
David “Red” Lehr, sousaphonist in all three of Jean’s bands, was one of Jean’s earliest supporters ever since the first time he heard her perform at the Old Levee House in St. Louis, Missouri. He hails from New Athens, Illinois, and in addition to his virtuosic jazz skills, he is also a world-class sharp shooter, farmer, and butcher with his own meat processing plant and market that he shares with his son. The photo to the left shows Red during his early years playing alongside Jean Kittrell and John Becker in the Jazz Incredibles, but his professional music career began in 1963, playing in Gaslight Square at Your Father’s Mustache.
Today he is internationally renowned by jazz and classical musicians alike, selected by traditional jazz fans in 2000 to be part of the Millennium Band for the American Rag publication, as well as forming a long-lasting musical friendship with former St. Louis Symphony Orchestra tubist Gene Pokorny (currently principal tubist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Red’s friendship with Gene Pokorny led to the Jazz Incredibles’ partnership with the St. Louis Symphony for successful summer concerts in St. Louis’ Queeny Park in the 1980s.
After Jean’s retirement, leadership and management of the Old St. Louis Levee Band and St. Louis Rivermen passed on to Red Lehr and his wife Carolyn Lehr. A powerhouse of a sousaphonist in his own right, Red Lehr also leads another band, his Powerhouse Five. Together, the three bands continue to perform locally and throughout the country at traditional jazz festivals. Detailed information about the bands and footage of some of their concerts can be found on their website, http://stlrivermen.com/.
Continuing the Tradition
Jean Kittrell’s former bandmembers can be found keeping Dixieland alive in a variety of venues around the St. Louis area. Some, like trumpeter and cornetist Steve Lilley who performed with the St. Louis Rivermen for many years, continue to lead their own bands. Steve Lilley’s St. Louis Stompers have been playing “a mixture of Chicago and New Orleans style traditional jazz and Dixieland” since 1981. A former high school teacher and published author, Lilley also invited some of Jean’s other former bandmembers, including Old St. Louis Levee Band alum Pat Arana on trombone and St. Louis Rivermen drummer Jack Tartar, to join his group. Their website, with current albums and performing schedule, can be found at http://www.stlouisstompers.com/.
Additionally, former bandmembers are carrying on Jean’s legacy by keeping traditional jazz alive on a national scale. Retired SIUE Jazz Studies director and former St. Louis Rivermen trombonist Brett Stamps has made a name for himself performing in the world renowned Cornet Chop Suey Jazz Band since 2001. The band, which dedicates itself to the performance of traditional jazz as well as other exciting genres, can be heard frequently in St. Louis. More information can be found on their website, http://cornetchopsuey.com/index.html.