While Jean may have been known to many as the “Red Hot Mama of Dixieland,” countless others knew her also as Professor, or Dr. Kittrell. In addition to receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theory from Blue Mountain College and Master’s in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, Jean Kittrell received her Ph.D. in British Literature from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, taking a brief hiatus from her performing duties to finish her dissertation. Shortly after, she accepted a teaching position at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) where she taught English literature and, between the years of 1982-1986, chaired the Department of English. The photo below was taken during Jean’s tenure as chair.
During her time as a professor, Jean’s intellectual rigor and unending passion for her work carried her through weekdays of teaching to Friday nights, when she would don one of her signature fringe dresses and make the drive from southern Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri, to perform with the Jazz Incredibles on the Lt. Robert E. Lee, docked on the Mississippi River. After performing on Friday night, Jean would come home, often as late as 2:00 or 3:00 am on Saturday morning, get a good night’s rest, and grade papers on Saturday afternoons. Then she would do it all again on Saturday night, this time coming home in time to wake up and lead her church choir on Sunday morning.
As part of her academic career, Jean explored the history of jazz. She was particularly interested in the development of early styles from African American music. In addition to her interest in British literature, she helped pioneer the incorporation of African American literature into the English department’s curriculum at SIUE. Her interest in jazz history and music theory background led her to dedicate the same amount of energy to scholarship as she routinely gave to her jazz performances, which in turn provided her performances with intellectual authority. As a jazz scholar, she gave lectures at many universities and even published a book, Black Roots of Our American Music, in 1971. This book has been digitized as part of the Jean Kittrell Digital Collection and can be explored in detail with accompanying text-searchable PDF transcription by clicking on the cover image below.
Once A Teacher...
Of course, even when Jean’s career as a professor had finished and she focused on leading her three bands full-time, her intellectual spirit continued into her performances and programming. When touring the Dixieland jazz festival circuit, Jean and her bands often had opportunities to educate their audiences both young and old. Eureka, California was one such opportunity.
The two documents shown below are set lists, or programs, from Children’s Concerts designed by Jean Kittrell for the Redwood Festival in 1995 and 2003. At these festivals, Jean performed with the St. Louis Rivermen, but also got to showcase traditional jazz for a much younger than normal audience of students ages 6-12. The two programs show intricate and organized planning notes including, in the 2003 iteration, a detailed script for Jean and her bandmembers. The programs highlight Jean’s continued role as a teacher and jazz scholar throughout her musical career. These Children’s Concerts incorporated music, dance, and jazz history to enliven the story of jazz and encourage the next generation of Dixieland jazz musicians.