Jean Kittrell, First Lady of Jazz
Lilting melodies, foot-tapping rhythms, heart-rending ballads, and unexpected humor--the music of the Jazz Incredibles defies categorization. They play them all--Dixieland, blues, ragtime, vaudeville, pop-tunes, spirituals. Just call them ECLECTIC.
Bobby Grimm, one of the outstanding tenor banjoists in America and long-time partner of Red and Jean in the OLD ST. LOUIS LEVEE BAND, joined the JAZZ INCREDIBLES when John Becker, the original banjoist, retired from traveling in 2002. That same year the trio bacame a quartet with Noel Kaletsky's mellow soprano sax and facil clarinet giving new meaning to soulful ballads and hot jazz.
A little history of the Jazz Incredibles:
Originally a trio, the INCREDIBLES began a regular Friday night gig in 1978 (lasting through 1990) aboard the Lt. Robert E. Lee, a floating restaurant/saloon moored on the Mississippi River south of the famous Saarinen Arch memorializing St. Louis as the Gateway to the Western Frontier.
The trio featured the driving barrelhouse piano and lusty songs of Jean Kittrell, the single-string melodic banjo technique of John Becker, and the incredible virtuosity and strength of sousaphonist David "Red" Lehr, playing rags of the masters (Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James Scott), vaudeville, pop, and jazz tunes, blues and spirituals.
Recalling those days Jean says: "In the beginning, we were just having fun making music together, and I do mean fun. As the months passed, and night after night these two played beautiful, unique, often astounding, improvisations, I realized I was working with two world-class musicians. I described their performance so many times as incredible that finally I said: "This trio is going to be called the JAZZ INCREDIBLES, because you two are incredible and I find it incredible that I'm playing piano with you. Thus, our modest name came about."
Bobby Grimm, Noel Kaletsky, Jean Kittrell, "Red" Lehr
Since 2004, as often as the budget allows, the quartet becomes a quintet with the addition of the creative swinging drummer, Don Schroeder. The quintet continues the annual appearance of the JAZZ INCREDIBLES since 1988 in the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Festival. A highlight of the year 2006 was the JI concert, at the invitation of the U.S. Army Band, at the 23rd International Tuba and Euphonium Converence, Ft. Myer, Virginia.
Since 2004, as often as the budget allows, the quartet becomes a quintet with the addition of the creative swinging drummer, Don Schroeder. The quintet continues the annual appearance of the JAZZ INCREDIBLES since 1988 in the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Festival. A highlight of the year 2006 was the JI concert, at the invitation of the U.S. Army Band, at the 23rd International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, Ft. Myer, Virginia.
The trio played festivals and concerts from the East to West Coast. In three one-month European tours (1985, 1987, 1989) they played international jazz festivals in The Netherlands (Breda, s'Hertogenbosch, Apeldoorn, Assen, Wageningen), in Germany (Gladbeck), and in numerous clubs in France, Germany, Holland, and England. The the week-long Edinburgh, Scotland, Jazz Festival, where they performed (1989, 1990, 1991), the JI were given the John Gibson Jazz Award (1990) as the most entertaining band of the Festival. In 1995 the JI gave three concerts in Tokyo, Japan, with Akira Tsumura's STORYVILLE DANDIES JAZZ BAND. They were honored to play, with Richard Hayman conducting, four series of pop concerts (1987, 1988, 1989, 2000) with the ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and one of the HONOLULU SYMPHONY in Hawaii (1990).
A favorite memory of the JI is playing--for 45,000 standing baseball fans--the "Star-Spangled Banner" in Busch Stadium.
Both John and Jean have been honored by the Musicians Association of St. Louis Local 2-197 with the Owen Miller Award "for many years of loyalty, dedication, fellowhip, fairness, action and deeds."
John retired from travel with the JAZZ INCREDIBLES at the age of 84 in 2002. Jean at the age of 81 retired as pianist and leader of the JAZZ INCREDIBLES.
Red Lehr has formed an exciting new quintet, the POWERHOUSE FIVE, with Noel Kaletsky, Steve Lilley, Ray Templin, and Don Schroeder. See their schedule as well as the ST. LOUIS RIVERMEN's schedule on Red's website: www.stlrivermen.com