Samuel Luetkemeyer, 19, has made history for his high school and is the best high school-aged jazz piano player in Missouri — or at least he was, for a one-time performance.
Luetkemeyer, a senior at Calvary Lutheran High School, was chosen to be first chair for the All-State Jazz Band in piano and keyboard, and played with the band Jan. 23-26 at the Missouri Music Educators Association's In-Service Workshop and Conference at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach.
Luetkemeyer is much more modest about his selection from among the jazz pianists from public and private schools in the state, also being the first All-State Band participant from Calvary Lutheran — "By that rubric, I guess for now," he said of being the best.
Music to him is as much or more so about purpose as performance.
Talking about his favorite jazz songs — he didn't have an answer to give he felt could do justice — led to talking about what makes a song good.
"A good tune is a good tune, regardless of the style of it," Luetkemeyer said — something "purposeful in its notes," even if there are only a few of them.
A good tune is "any tune that gets the listener's ear and has a character to it," and "that fills a listener with more than what they started with."
He started trying to play a keyboard as soon as he could walk, he said his mom tells him. Both his parents' families have musicians in their lineages, and Luetkemeyer said he soaked in observations of all that talent.
He sometimes plays at St. John's Lutheran Church in Schubert — "Abide with Me," "Amazing Grace" and "It is Well with My Soul" are among his favorite hymns — and he added that songs in Vacation Bible School when he was younger captivated him.
He was 8 years old when he said he started playing for a charity banquet at the Special Learning Center, where he was a student.
He's also currently in a band — Low Rent District — with his brother, Silas, among his bandmates, and the group opened recently for Charley Pride.
Luetkemeyer said he tends to play by ear, so "I guess that's why I'm more inclined to jazz as a genre."
Colleges he's applied for include Webster University, the University of Missouri and Columbia College. He's thinking about studying audio production.
"I kind of have to do something with music," given how he's been blessed and how he's wired, he said.
His notes of advice for fellow performers are to seek out opportunities and know — but test — limitations.
He said the All-State Band leaders shared a lot of the same ideas and motivations he's gotten from his mentors. He spent two and a half days with the All-State Band, training, learning and perfecting music they played for a closing concert.
"Every encounter that you have with other teachers and fellow musicians, there's a reason that person is there," Luetkemeyer said.
He added that "every part of this life, it's not an accident."