Music at the Intersection has tributes to Tina Turner, Albert King and Montez Coleman
Lady J Huston was a teenager in St. Louis when she started singing with Johnnie Johnson, the legendary piano player who contributed to many of Chuck Berry’s classic recordings. That led to an audition for the band of blues guitarist Albert King, another St. Louisan, in 1980.
Within a couple of years, Huston was King’s musical director, writing out horn charts and supervising the band.
“A lot of times that was difficult, because I was younger than them. I was female. And I’m telling them what to do. That intimidated some fellas,” Huston said.
Three decades after riding the tour bus with King and the rest of the band, Huston has assembled a 10-piece group made up of fellow King alumni. They will play a tribute to the blue legend Sunday at the Music at the Intersection festival.
Her set is one of a few tributes this weekend to St. Louis music greats of the past. Thirteen jazz musicians led by Adaron “Pops” Jackson will assemble to play a tribute Saturday to drummer Montez Coleman of East St. Louis, who died in January. A few hours later, homegrown vocalist Seviin Li will play a set in honor of Tina Turner. And the Henry Townshend Acoustic Blues Showcase will celebrate the legacy of the great St. Louis bluesman.
“St. Louis is renowned worldwide for bringing excellent musicians onto the scene,” Huston said. “Sometimes I don't understand why we are not as big as we should be, as far as the income stream. Musicians really struggle here. But the musicianship is as good as any other major musical center.”
Huston was classically trained on her horn and took some time to adapt to a blues style when she started working for King.
As a music composition major who later got a degree in business administration, she was a good complement to King, who did not read music.
“The music side was fantastic,” Huston said. “It would be smoking fire on that stage.”
A drummer and a gentleman
The tribute to Coleman, organized by Jazz St. Louis Artistic Director Bob Benett, will showcase various sides of the late drummer’s legacy. The program includes different quintets focusing on music from Coleman’s time playing with Art Blakey, a selection of modern jazz and Coleman’s original music.
“There's a vacuum left by him in St. Louis that can never be replaced. And no matter how talented another drummer may be, Montez Coleman will always be present in St. Louis,” said Victor Goines, a clarinetist and educator who has played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1993. Goines will become the new president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis later in September.
“He was a fantastic person and as a musician he was equally fantastic and energetic in his playing,” Goines said of Coleman. “The way he lived is the way he played music, and you can feel that vibration and that energy inside of his playing.”
Full commitment onstage
Vocalist, songwriter and actress Seviin Li grew up familiar with Tina Turner’s hits, but she hadn’t looked too closely into Turner’s biography or oeuvre. When the Missouri History Museum recruited her to put together a tribute to Turner last year, Li immersed herself in her forerunner’s work.
“I started studying her story and seeing her background. That's kind of when she really hit me up. And it just kind of changed my whole perspective of how I wanted to approach my music,” Li said.
Li will play Turner’s music again in a Saturday set at this weekend’s festival. Turner was a true individual, as a person and an artist, Li said.
“Where the times are right now in R&B and pop, everybody wants to be super girly. And they can be sexy and girly. But Tina was rough. She was sexy, and she commanded the stage. She commanded her audience. She controlled it. She was just all about that thing,” Li said. “She didn't care if she made ugly faces. She didn't care if she sweated her makeup off. She just left it all out on the stage.”
Playing Turner’s music is daunting, Li said, because it requires her full emotional commitment.
“With Tina, you literally have to lose yourself,” Li said.
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