Why Do We “Syncopate?” Support from Jean Kittrell

(Jean Kittrell in 1994)

Related: Jean Kittrell The Red Hot Mama of Dixieland Jazz, Has Died, Playing by Ear, a memory of Jean Kittrell in Europe in the 1950s.

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I was delighted and deeply honored to receive a note from pianist Jean Kittrell, who led the Jazz Incredibles, the Old St. Louis Levee Band, and the St. Louis Rivermen until her retirement from music in 2008. (In her heyday, she was simultaneously Chair of the English Department at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and a rollicking, blues-belting, piano-pounding Red Hot Mama: the best of both worlds, I’d say.)

Jean said, “I want to thank you for continuing to run the notice about the SIUE scholarship given by the St. Louis Jazz Club in my name.” (That notice is on page 38 of this paper.) She also graciously renewed her subscription for another year.

What she said next justifies the existence of this publication as The Syncopated Times: “I congratulate you on choosing SYNCOPATED for the name of your paper. Ken Burns’ article on traditional jazz was excellent in most respects—but completely wrong in choosing IMPROVISATION as the basic innovation, created by blacks in America, of jazz. Classical musicians like Mozart were famous for their improvisations. But nothing in the world existed like the SYNCOPATION created by blacks—an emphasis on the second and fourth weak beats of a four-beat composition, setting up a rhythmic tension between the first and third beats and the second and fourth beats.
“You named your paper well for OKOM—our kind of music! Thanks and congratulations.”

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