Nationally known jazz musician and Arkansas City High School graduate Rick Stitzel spent time in his hometown this week.

He and the ACHS Jazz Band performed several of his compositions Tuesday night at the high school, in front of more than 300 people.

However, the day started with a jazz seminar of sorts, with Stitzel leading the band in rehearsal.

The 8 a.m. class was held on the stage of the ACHS auditorium, in preparation for the concert.

Stitzel foundation

“My dad gave me my first trumpet,” Stitzel said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

His father was an architect by trade, but an amateur trumpet player by hobby.

In fact, he was the architect who designed the layout of Arkansas City Middle School.

“I helped dig the (ACMS) foundation,” Stitzel said. “(I) must have done a good job, because it’s still standing,” he joked.

It was at his father’s urging that Stitzel pursued his career as a musician.

“The better I got at it, the more I enjoyed it,” he said. “The more I enjoyed it, the more I worked at it.”

Playing correctly

During the rehearsal, Stitzel cautioned the young musicians to take care that they play their instruments correctly.

Early in his career, he said he struggled to “hit the high notes,” a skill that is not necessarily easy to attain.

One person he learned from used a glass medicine dropper to stop most of the airflow through his trumpet, creating a higher-pitched note.

“A friend noticed that when I was playing, my neck extended out past my ears,” Stitzel said.

He didn’t immediately seek any medical help, but instead continued playing.

“My neck herniated,” he said, choking back emotion. But he was able to begin playing again in 1990.

Silver lining

Stitzel credits his “unfortunate” injury with his becoming such a well-rounded musician.

Because of his neck injury, he was unable to play for several years. During that time, he focused on composing.

Stitzel’s composition style was influenced heavily by Thad Jones, a jazz trumpeter who played a “big band” style.

“He’s not a household name, but jazz musicians all know him,” he said of Jones.

Jazz appeals to Stitzel, who thinks it allows for a musician to play in a greater range of styles.

No limitations

“I know a lot of Ark City people have taken up careers in music,” Stitzel said.

Once a couple of them made it, it became a sort of a tradition, he said.

However, Stitzel said it often takes much more than simply being a musician.

“It’s difficult to make a living playing music,” he said.

“Make sure you get a certification to teach. If you don’t make it as a player, you always have something (else) you can do.”

“I teach, and I compose and I play, and it takes all three to make a good living,” he added.

To the young adults starting to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Stitzel offered these words: “There aren’t any limitations.”

Just because someone starts life in a small town in Kansas, it doesn’t mean that their destiny is to remain in that town.

“I think sometimes people put limitations on themselves,” he said.