Bill Ortiz: Santana’s Trumpet Master

As good as the great trumpet legends, Bill Ortiz releases Highest Wish October 19th”  

Music doesn’t always need to be about changing the world or bringing a profound message… sometimes it’s about getting people from Monday to Tuesday, but it’s important to have both. Art has always had a place in changing social consciousness, and music definitely is one of the things that bridges the gap between people and cultures.” – Bill Ortiz


By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
Deputy Managing Editor, Herald De Paris
Excerpt of exclusive interview published author permission

Bill Ortiz

Bill Ortiz is the lead Trumpet player for Santana… a chair he has held for twelve years and in the one million years yet to come. In addition to his world travels, Las Vegas showcases and arena gigs with Carlos’ crew, Ortiz’s sweet, assertive trumpet attack has made him one of the most in-demand players on the San Francisco Bay Area music scene.

His performing and recording credits include work with such diverse artists and groups as Patti Austin, Cachao, Don Cherry, The Dramatics, Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, Sheila E, James Ingram, Tito Puente, Flora Purim and Airto, Todd Rundgren, Arturo Sandoval, Boz Scaggs, TLC, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Cecil Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and Steve Winwood. In addition, Bill has been very active as a studio musician in Hip-Hop, R&B and Jazz.



A proud San Francisco native, Bill took up the trumpet at age ten and played in R&B bands as a teenager. He feels that this experience was invaluable to his subsequent jazz work. “I consider myself a jazz player,” he said, “but my musical upbringing contains a large amount of Latin playing. I’m part Cuban myself, and I started out playing R&B. What I’m trying to do with my music is reflect all those elements of who I am as a musician. It’s basically all African music; it’s all branches of the same tree. I’m not a purist at all. I try to bring it all together.”


 Ortiz is proud to present his new full-length release titled Highest Wish. A follow up to his Winter in America EP released earlier this year, this new album project features conscious emcees such as Casual, The Grouch, Zumbi (of Zion I) and K-Maxx, as well as fellow Santana member (and eleven time Grammy® Award Winner) Tony Lindsey, and iconic poet/vocalist Linda Tillery, featured with a spoken word performance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize speech.
“Carlos has always used music to inspire and bring people together,” Ortiz said. “I try to follow in that tradition. I’ve been really inspired by some of the Bay Area hip-hop artists like Casual, Zumbi and the Grouch who make music with enlightened lyrics.” When it comes to choosing his guest artists, “We often celebrate ignorance in our society, so I wanted to celebrate consciousness.”

On his EP, which charted in the top ten on CMJ’s hip hop charts for over a month, Ortiz covers Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson’s 1973 hit on the track Winter in America as an homage to the recently departed Heron. The concept video for this track has been featured on many mainstream hip-hop websites.

Dr. A.C. Hernandez had the opportunity to interview Bill Ortiz, another friend from the Santana family:

 Why did you decide on becoming a musician? Why the trumpet? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up?

Bill Ortiz
: Well, before I started playing the trumpet, music already played a big part of my life during my early years. My parents played music in the house a lot and had a pretty extensive record collection- everything from classical and pop music at the time to soundtracks for movies and plays- stuff that is referred to sometimes and the “great American song book,” songs that became jazz standards. The one record that made the biggest impression was called “Satchmo The Great.” with Louis Armstrong performing live with live a full orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
Do you think growing up in SF affected your musical sensibilities back in the day the music in the Bay Area was quite eclectic?

: Growing up in the bay area during the ’70’s had a huge impact on my musical sensibilities, and that foundation is still strong today. I consider this era of music as a real golden age… it was paramount for many artists at that time to be innovative, progressive and conscious minded, at least the ones I gravitated to. In addition to all the great music coming out of the bay area such as Sly, Santana, and Graham Central Station- there was Curtis Mayfield, Weather Report, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, the whole punk movement, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder with “Inner visions”, The Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson Band, ’70’s Miles Davis and all the great vocal groups coming out of Philly.
When you can throw in such voices as Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dick Gregory and Alex Haley with Roots, it was a pretty heady time. Most musicians I hung out with at that time strived to find always something new and innovative to play, and to have their own sound and approach. There weren’t that many young musicians in suits running around putting down anything that wasn’t 50 years old.
Was it when you landed first chair in the San Francisco All City Band that you decided to make music a career? Who inspired you to pursuit your dreams?
BO: Although I was first chair at All-City Band and started playing in bars with R&B bands at 16, I didn’t really decide to be a full time musician/artist until my senior year. What inspired me to choose that path was a private music teacher I had named Ron Madden, a student at San Francisco State College at the time. Ron was a remarkable teacher who taught me a lot about the whole creative process of improvisation, and how different musicians approached it—Miles, Wayne Shorter, and John Coltran—he helped me to understand what was behind licks and scales. I also studied with trumpet guru John Coppola, who also not only helped me to get a clue with improvising but helped me with my embouchure and the mechanics of the horn-I owe them both everything.
Did your ethnicity inspire your pursuit of the genre? Do you view yourself “ethnic” at all?
BO: Being part Cuban, I did have an interest of learning more about Cuban music, although outside of my grandfather, I didn’t have that much influence of Cuban culture growing up that came later as a musician. As I started working professionally, I became involved in the great Latin music scene that still exists today in the bay area. In my early 20’s I started working with such artists as John Santos, Pete Escovedo, Francisco Aguabella, and a lot of other great bay area bands. I also worked with artists like Tito Puente, Chocolate: and Israel Cachao Lopez when they would venture out to the west coast. As to being “ethnic,” I think that would be all of us.
What was your first major gig and how did you land it?
BO: I guess that would be my recording and doing a few gigs with “Robert Winters and Fall.” Robert was an amazing singer that had a big hit called “Magic Man” on the R&B charts- that was in my early 20’s. I would consider my time with Pete Escovedo, John Santos and Peter Aphelbaum and “The Hieroglyphics Ensemble” as major gigs. With Peter, we played jazz festivals in the US and Europe- both by ourselves and backing up iconic jazz trumpeter Don Cherry. My first touring gig was “Tony Toni Tone.”

Tell us about Tony, Toni, Tone. What was that whole experience like?


BO: All in all, that was a terrific experience, musically and otherwise. The band was just killin’! The core of the group all came from gospel music backgrounds, and they all just flat out played their asses off. Playing live, we’d add lots of elements that weren’t on the original recordings… great arrangements, solos sections and musical interludes. All three of the principals of the group, Raphael Saadiq, Timothy Christian-Reilly and D’Wayne Wiggins are great writers and producers, and all the other musicians were as well. There were long hours on the tour bus with that band, 24-7 of watching Scarface, playing Madden football, brutal cap sessions, listening to gospel quartet music- lot’s of laughs and good times. We were having more fun then we realized at the time.


Elaborate on working with En Vogue, Janet, Destiny’s Child and TLC.


BO: My time with En Vogue, TLC and Destiny’s Child mostly involved studio work, although when Santana played at The Super Bowl a few years back, Beyonce performed some songs with us as well. I worked with En Vogue along with a number of artists while working for the producing team Foster and McElroy, who also produced Tony Toni Tone’s first 2 CDs.


I had the pleasure of playing on Janet Jackson’s tour with Tony Toni Tone’, who was the opening act. Her show had lots of high production- it’s really something to see such an elaborate presentation every night, and to see how it all works behind the scenes technically with the video, special effects and sets is pretty cool! She had a great band and dancers, and she performs her tail off too-it a total show.


Did you get typecast as strictly an R&B player?


BO: I guess it’s pretty natural for people to define you by the work you are doing. Hopefully they like or appreciate what you do. I’ve been the “Latin guy,” the R&B guy, the jazz guy, the Latin guy again, the R&B guy again, the guy who’s never home… I am very fortunate to have played lots of different stuff genre wise- it’s all good.


You have been with Carlos for twelve years. How did you book the gig and how is it living the dream? Is there a downside to fame and fortune?
BO: I became full time band member of Santana in 2000, but had recorded with Carlos on his “Milagro” CD in ’92. We gigged with him once or twice previous to my joining the band. He had also seen me play locally with various bay area groups. I also knew and played with several members that were in the band. After recording on the song “Smooth,” I got the call to join the band. It’s been an amazing ride, all the places we play and the musicians I’ve had a chance to play with.

Tell us about your latest release ‘Winter in America.’ Why Gil Scott Heron? Are you trying to make a socio-politcal statement and if so, what is it?


BO: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson produced some of the most important work of their time, and their music and words are as valid and timely as ever. It seems like we’ve come full circle and are back/still dealing with the same issues and problems in society. The words of the song “Winter In America” are as meaningful now as they were when the song was recorded. The lyrics themselves pretty much speaks for itself as to what the message is. Gil was always quite eloquent and clear.
You’ve said, “We often celebrate ignorance in our society, so I want to celebrate consciousness.” What does that mean to you? 
BO: That’s a question that could take up a whole interview. In short, all you have to do is look at the tone of reality TV, how our political and religious leaders talk to each other, how we resolve our conflicts with others, the general dumbing down of our society. Music doesn’t always need to be about changing the world or bringing a profound message… sometimes it’s about getting people from Monday to Tuesday, but it’s important to have both. Art has always had a place in changing social consciousness, and music definitely is one of the things that bridges the gap between people and cultures. I’d say that’s a good thing, since we live in a time where we humans are quite divided and often fail to recognize the humanity of others.

Read Dr. Al Carlos fabulous interview where Bill Ortiz talks about working with Boz Skaggs, Lavay Smith, his role as a youth education mentor through his music, who he looks forward to working with, and his plans for the future, by visiting:


Bill Ortiz “Highest Wish” CD Release Party at Biscuits and Blues on October 19, 2012

Dinner Reservations and Tickets Available: (415)-292-2583 or at:

Please check out Bill Ortiz

 –Edited by Elia Esparza, Latin Heat Editor

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Elia Esparza is a leading expert in communications and journalism targeting the burgeoning Hispanic market and has produced and written dozens of articles. President and CEO of Always Evolving PR and a Communications Specialist, Elia, incorporates her 18 years experience in the areas of entertainment and education public relations, and marketing. promotions, market research and translations (Eng/Span).