For the regular viewers of Embassy: Interactive, it should be known that the majority of my interviews and artist profiles have mostly highlighted my emerging favorites in music. Rarely have I had features allowing me the opportunity to pick the brain of artists responsible for some of my all time favorite songs and classic projects (what’s up Camp Lo!). Consider me humbled and fortunate right now to bring to you my interview with trumpeter Bill Ortiz.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Ortiz’ long standing career features him being an integral part as a band member and collaborator with legends in various genres of music. To name a few Tito Puente, Tony Toni Toné, Chick Corea, Boz Scaggz, En Vogue, Sheila E, and Carlos Santana have had their works blessed with Ortiz’s musicianship. In addition to these features Ortiz has also had a notable appearance playing the trumpet on one of my favorite songs of all time and undeniable Hip-Hop classic, “’93 Til Infinity” by Souls Of Mischief.
Ortiz is steadily touring and performing works off his latest project “Highest Wish”. Featuring the lead single “We Are What We Are” featuring Casual of The Hieroglyphics, the album is a solid marriage of Jazz, Hip-Hop and more of his influences of the multifarious musician. It is also the follow up to his “Winter in America” EP released earlier in 2012. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Ortiz and discuss numerous topics ranging from Hip-Hop’s influence on him, the challenges as a professional musician and his contributions to others through teaching music education.
The Eclectic: Interview With Bill Ortiz
What was the source of inspiration that lead you to be a trumpet player?
I was already very interested in music before I started playing the trumpet. My parents had a pretty big record collection and were always playing music in the house, and I listened to the radio constantly. When I was growing up, top 40 was still significant-these stations played everything from Motown to rock and pop. The moment that got me into playing the trumpet was when the local high school band performed at my grammar school in order to recruit for our school’s music program. Trumpet was my first choice, and my parents fortunately said yes. Since my folks had Louis Armstrong records, that was the first jazz trumpet player I listened to, but once I started playing music in school, I became aware of players like Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie and others.
What song or moment drew you in as a Hip-Hop fan?
As I mentioned, I listened to lot’s of R&B growing up, and my first gigs were in funk/soul bands. As Hip-Hop emerged, since it is a latest evolution of R&B, it automatically was under the umbrella of what I listened to. In addition, much of the music I listened had lot’s of depth lyrically, such as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson. Gil is often referred to as one of the “Godfathers of Rap.” Early Hip Hop artists like Grand Master Flash, KRS-1, Chuck D with Public Enemy all had important things to say in their music, and that continues on today with Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey, and the Emcees that appear on my CD- Casual, Zumbi, The Grouch and K-Maxx.
In addition to being a part of Carlos Santana’s band you also worked closely with a group I love still today in Tony Toni Tone, what impact did they have on you personally and do you feel on music in general?
Tony Toni Tone was one of the last R&B acts that were truly a band, along with Mint Condition. One element of common vocabulary that all the guys in the band had was gospel music-it flavored most of the compositions and all of the arrangements. The influence of classic soul was always in the mix too, such as Al Green, Sly and Donny Hathaway. Often we would develop live versions of their songs with more elaborate arrangements than the original versions which reflected this. There was also significant jazz influence as well. It was always great working in the studio with them too-Raphael, Tim and D’Wayne were all amazing producers, and I learned a lot watching them work.
What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve had maintaining a music career?
Challenges maintaining a musical career are different at each stage in your career. Early on it’s about developing your skill base so you can keep working- learning to play different styles, how to read/sightread music, and how to be a good “professional”, such as being on time and being a good teammate/getting along with others. It’s always important to remember it’s not about you, it’s about the music.
At this point for me it’s being on the road as much as I am and still keeping a “normal” life with your family and friends. So far so good I guess!
What can you personally say has changed and stayed the same in comparison with today’s music climate?
I think if you talk to anyone in the music field today you will get many of the same answers about how things are different within the industry. The internet has been both very good for and devastating to the music industry. On-line purchasing thru iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby etc., along with Facebook and Twitter have made it easier for independent and unsigned artists to sell their music directly to their fans. The bad thing is that far fewer people today actually buy music. If you can stream it on Pandora, YouTube or Spotify, you are less likely to buy it. Most of these sites either pay little or no royalties to the artist. It’s important for people to remember that artists can’t continue to record and release if people don’t support them by buying their music.
Unfortunately, today in our culture we often don’t value music enough as an art form. There is very little live music on TV in this country, and what IS on is often lip synced, or heavily auto-tuned and staged. Major labels are interested in developing their “artist’s” cult of personality and persona/brand with little or no concern for artistic talent or content. They may as well be selling tires.
Being a part of the Souls Of Mischief song “93 Til Infinity”, did you know or have a feeling at the time the song would be such a timeless track?
I had a blast working in the studio with the Souls Of Mischief and Domino, who was the producer of the songs I played on. There was no doubt at the time in the studio that they were making killer tracks. That being said, it’s hard to know ahead of time if song is going to be hit, or really resonate with people. Besides being a great track, sometimes it’s simply about timing- or the artist just peaking with a song and creating magic. When we recorded “Smooth” with Santana, we all know it was an outstanding song and performance, but I don’t think 30 million units sold was expected right out of the box.
What goes into your decision process when looking for prospective emcees to work with?
Artistic integrity and depth are what I look for in an emcee or lyricist that I work with- I really value songs that have something important to say. It’s not like every song has to change the world. Sometimes songs can just be funny or playful, but I’m not into trash for cash. One thing I admire about Carlos Santana is how he values using music as a force to heal or unify people in a world in which we are often divided or in conflict with others.
Who is an artist today that you would love to work with that would surprise some people?
I would love to work with Bjork, Pharaoh Sanders, Rance Allen, Carole King and Neil Young. Those may surprise-my wanting to work with Erykah Badu or Herbie Hancock probably wouldn’t surprise anyone.
It is known that you are involved in music education. What is the one thing you want younger musicians and fans to gain from your teachings?
When I was growing up and starting to play music, there wasn’t much music in the schools. We all had to learn by ourselves- listening to the artists that inspired us and surrounding yourself with other musicians that you could learn from. In regards to the business aspect of music, it was trial by error. As a result, I made just about every mistake along the way- It would be nice to spare others from this path. Today there are lots of great music schools/colleges for young musicians to go to learn about the business aspect of music, as well as playing, producing, engineering etc.
I benefited from some great private teachers along the way who shared with me their experience and knowledge-without them I wouldn’t have had the success that I’ve had so far. I really like to do the same-passing along what I’ve learned along the way.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have a few things that I’m starting to work on-one of which is a gospel music project. Another one’s a surprise so I can’t say anything about it yet Stay tuned to my Twitter and Facebook pages in the future.
Thank you for having me in this interview, and your support of independent artists and their music!
“It was my absolute pleasure to be a part of this. Thanks again Bill.”
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