Dr. Otto Gomez has a personal connection to the trumpet. As a pastor, he appreciates how the instrument is mentioned in the Bible, and he never loses his spiritual regard of music. Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, the city was very good to him; he started performing with his buddies when he was just 14. He now lives in Orlando, playing R&B, smooth and Latin jazz.

Age when you starting playing music?

At age 12. I just couldn’t get the fingering. The guitar I was given was too small for my fat fingers. I then began beating on my mother’s bar stools, so she bought me a Slingerland drum set from Sam Ash on 48th Street in Manhattan.

That worked out very well because I was playing percussion in high school. But it took soooooooo long to get to my next class since I had to break down all of the cymbal stands, de-tune the tympani, and then cover them for the next class. I remember those days so well!

At 15, I started to play the trumpet because my band director played it and it was convenient for me to pack up after class. I taught myself how to play and it came very naturally to figure out the different patterns in order to perform with the school band. I truly loved it and I still do. According to the Bible, when Jesus returns, He will be ushered in with the sound of the trumpet.  

As time went on in the late 60’s, I played in different local bands in New York. I performed in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan; R&B, Latin jazz and a few pop bands.  

When did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?

The minute I performed my first paid gig, which was in Harlem. My mother bought a station wagon so that the other musicians and I could get our equipment to the gig. We were all very young back in those days. I’ll never forget how much we got paid: $175 for three hours. I was 14, and was playing drums then because they needed a drummer. Since I knew the material, I did the gig. From that point on, I knew I wanted to do this for real.

What was the experience like studying for your Ph.D. in England?

It was very cool. I was working on a horn and string arrangement for a group that was doing the commercials for Burger King. I used that material for my Advanced Independent Research and Advanced Orchestration course.

How did you come to settle in the Orlando area?

In 1978 I was the musical director of a band named “The Smokin’ Shades of Black.” We were a local group based out of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. We were very well known for opening up multiple shows for major Billboard acts such as Blood Sweat & Tears, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Millie Jackson, Tyrone Davis and a host of others.

One afternoon, we were booked to be the opening act for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. After the performance, I handed John Atkins (the leader of the Blue Notes at that time) my business card and told him I’d be interested in playing trumpet for them should they ever have an opening. He told me their trumpet player was leaving to sing lead for The Drifters in less than a month. So my timing was right!

I received a call from John three days later. We negotiated our terms and within a week I was in Miami at their rehearsal, learning the show. I toured with them for approximately one year and my tour ended up in Orlando, Florida in 1979. We performed at the Tomorrowland Theater in Disneyland. 

Talk about the jazz scene now in Orlando.    

It calmed down back in 2006 since the death of one of the Grossman brothers who were the owners of WLOQ 103.1. They really took care of the local musicians and the station had a lot of jazz concerts all over the city.

We still have a few jazz clubs in town but the concert venues are not as vast as back then.

How did you meet some of the classic R&B artists like Donnie Hathaway and Roberta Flack?

Just by being in New York when I was in The Smokin’ Shades of Black.

Your years as a pastor: does faith inform your music?

My music is now and will always be influenced by God. My publishing companies are Too Tough Music and Nehushtan Music. In the Bible, Nehushtan refers to “a piece of brass.” It always reminds me that the trumpet is only a piece of brass and should never be regarded as an instrument to be praised.

Why smooth, over straight-ahead, fusion, or bop?

Growing up in New York, the money was in performing in R&B bands that played James Brown, Gladys Knight, Otis Redding and artists of the sort. Playing jazz was a personal decision.

I loved the articulations that were performed by Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Chick Corea. I remember spending weeks trying to uncover the moves to the licks that Miles Davis was laying down. I was so engulfed with his musical vocabulary.

Clifford Brown was my hero but as time went on I found a very personal love and appreciation for Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. 

Today I study Rick Braun more than anyone else.

When did you form the Dr. Otto Quintet and who’s in it?

Around 1992. The musicians were (at that time): Maurice Johnson (guitar), Tim Cromer (drums), Skip Bryant (bass) and Dave Capp (sax). My band has expanded and contracted as time rolled on. Presently I have a four-piece rhythm section and we’re all loving it.

How long have you been teaching?

28 years.

How is your career divided between teaching and performing?

I teach privately in students’ homes. This gives them the comfort and ease of a familiar environment. They don’t have to worry about time restraints or being in a competitive mode while trying to comprehend a musical concept.

Talk about composing.

I love the gift of taking a thought and transforming it into music that can be comprehended by others. To me this is the beauty of a composer.

I truly understand the spiritual realm that the great composers like Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky must have felt in their compositions. Gil Evans, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock (in my opinion) also have the gift of taking thoughts and turning them into musical reality.

Your tune “Don’t You Ever Give Up” has a great groove. What do your songs have in common?

If you look at all of the titles of the songs on any of my CD’s, you will notice they all have a positive message.

Who are your musical inspirations (alive or passed)?

Quincy Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Randy Brecker and Rick Braun.

You play other instruments?

Piano, bass, French horn and voice.

What are the trumpet’s particular challenges?

The trumpet player has to be able to perform all of the articulations that the other instruments have to perform, but with only three valves.

CD’s?

I have three in Europe at present. 

Current projects?

I’m recording my fourth CD as we speak.

Future musical goals?

I’m hoping to be married in the next three months.

Other comments?

I am absolutely honored to have been selected to be part of your blog. Until we speak again, may God bless you and keep you always. 

Photo courtesy of the artist. 

© Debbie Burke 2017