Ottawa senior Jeffrey Doolittle is ending his high school music career on a high note.
The trumpeter played two of four solos performed during the Kansas Music Educators Association’s All-State Band concert last month at the Century II performing arts and convention center in Wichita. The band was comprised of 99 of the state’s top musicians in Classes 1-4A. The Feb. 21-23 KMEA-sponsored event takes place annually in Wichita.
“Playing two solos in the all-state band this year was probably the highlight of my school career,” Jeffrey said.
The concert marked Jeffrey’s third consecutive year performing in the all-state band (freshmen are not eligible).
“I have really enjoyed playing in the all-state honor band,” Jeffrey said. “You are surrounded by musicians who work hard and play at a high level. When you work on a tough piece and you get it right, it’s very satisfying.”
Jeffrey had to try out for the honors band, first in a Northeast District competition, which includes OHS. After qualifying at district contests, students from across the state converged on Salina in January to try out for the all-state band. Jeffrey was one of 12 trumpeters selected to perform.
Jeffrey is not the only musician in the family. He started taking trumpet lessons in the fifth grade from his father, Dan Doolittle, a teacher at Ottawa Middle School who Jeffrey said is an accomplished trumpet player. Starting his sophomore year, he began taking private lessons locally from Bill Funk.
The father-son Doolittle duo has performed taps at military funerals and, most recently, the duet performed the Star Spangled Banner at the Class 4A boys basketball sub-state finals in Ottawa.
“Jeffrey does a great job, and I enjoy when we get the opportunity to play together,” Dan Doolittle said. “It’s funny, now I think I get more nervous than he does when we perform together. He’s very calm and cool and has become an accomplished player.”
Dan and Jeffrey Doolittle also shared another experience — playing first chair trumpet in the state’s Northeast District Band their junior years in high school.
“I played at Blue Valley High School, when there was only one Blue Valley,” Dan Doolittle said. “It was a great experience to see Jeffrey accomplish the same thing I did, about 30 years apart.”
Jeffrey was quick to note his sisters — Kelli, the oldest, and Katie, who currently are both students at Baker University in Baldwin City, also are musicians. Kelli plays the clarinet and Katie plays the flute.
“Katie played first-chair flute in the all-state band her senior year [at OHS],” Jeffrey said.
Dan Doolittle said it has been fun getting the chance to play with all three of his children each summer in the Ottawa City Band, the second oldest city band in the state behind Lawrence.
“Jeffrey’s also a great pianist,” Doolittle said. “He earned a 1 rating at the state piano festival [in February] in Hillsboro.”
The children’s mother, Carolyn Doolittle, also is musically inclined, with father and son both saying she is a great singer.
“I met her in the choir at MidAmerica Nazarene,” Doolittle said, referring to the college they attended in Olathe.
Dan Doolittle, who started playing the trumpet in sixth grade in the early 1970s, said he found himself patterning his style after his favorite trumpeter of that era, Doc Severinsen, who perhaps was best known for leading the orchestra on “The Tonight Show,” staring Johnny Carson.
Jeffrey said his favorite trumpeter is Wynton Marsalis, a Grammy-winning classical and jazz performer who also is the artistic director of jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
“I like his real light and feathery tone,” he said.
Jeffrey said one of the other joys of his high school career was having the opportunity to play jazz music in the Northeast District Band with students who have taken lessons from some of the great jazz musicians in Kansas City.
“I like playing jazz more than classical,” Jeffrey said. “In jazz, you have the opportunity for some improvisation.”
He said he plans to try out for the University of Kansas marching band where he will attend college next fall and major in chemical engineering.
Jeffrey, who practices five or six days per week, said all the work has been worthwhile.
“It can be difficult when you’re struggling with a piece, but you have to stick with it and stay motivated,” he said. “I think I’ve improved every year, and I want to keep playing whenever I get the chance.”