Love is mysterious. It doesn’t make sense – it doesn’t add up – it’s where 1+0 = 150.
I first met Bruce Otto in the early 80s, in Chicago – and to me, he was just a trombonist. A GOOD player, but nothing special. He came to our jingle session, played the part, cashed the check and that was that.
When I met him again in the mid-90s, in L.A. – he became a beloved friend. Bruce was VERY intelligent and had a wicked sense of humor. He loved to eat, and we wound up going out with him several times every week. He became our quasi-son – since he came over for dinner at least as often as we’d eat out – and then he would stay to watch LARRY SANDERS or THE SOPRANOS on our TV – since he was too cheap to spring for HBO himself – AND I think he liked the company. Bruce was an only child – and he referred to our 4 dogs as his brothers and sisters – and would say, “Hi, Ma” when I’d answer the phone.
He’d come over to use our copier machine, instead of going to Kinko’s – and I’d resew the button he’d popped off a shirt, or type up some form he needed. We went shopping with him – to book stores and record stores – he’d relish the new CDs, especially ones he’d played on! – and hunt down rare recordings. In fact, he was the only person I knew who had an actual working Victrola and USED it to listen to records from the 20s and 30s. We took him clothes shopping, since his wardrobe was atrocious – we helped him pick out flattering outfits to downplay his quite overweight physique. We helped him house hunting, once his parents died and he could afford to buy his own house. And went furniture shopping, once he found a house he liked.
And we worried about him. Because Bruce didn’t take very good care of himself. He’d smoked for 20 years, he had horrible eating habits, he drank too much and got absolutely NO exercise.
But his enthusiasm for music was boundless. He ADORED Frank Sinatra and knew ALL of his recordings, chapter and verse. He’d bring over new CDs to share with us – and I loved it, because it was like when I was in college and just discovering all the jazz artists who had preceded us. His passion for music was infectious!
Still, I came to know a nasty side to Bruce – he had a FOUL temper that flared at the least provocation. He was a rage-aholic when disappointed by anyone or anything in his life. I remember when he got his house painted, before he moved in, how enraged he became when, upon further inspection, he found the painters hadn’t done a perfect job – he literally screamed obscenities that echoed thru the empty rooms – it was frightening! We’d had plans to go out for sushi but I just turned around, got in my car and went home!
Bruce’s only REAL desire was to be a recording musician in L.A., which he accomplished quite successfully in the 25 years he was there. But much as he reveled in the camaraderie of making music together with other musicians, Bruce also harbored a deep darkness towards most of his trombonist colleagues – one in particular, who he blamed for blocking his success. Every other musician was a potential competitor, someone who might be plotting to undermine him with a well-timed barb or comment to a contractor. Bruce was Machiavellian in his outlook towards his peers – much as he craved their attention, cracking them up with stories and jokes – he trusted NO ONE.
Bruce was amusing enough that most of the time we overlooked his faults – and when we had occasion to need a trombonist, we hired him for sessions. The first few times, he came over by himself and all went well – but when we hired him with other musicians, he became disruptive – interrupting and trying to take control of the sessions. He ran off unexpectedly in the middle of one, just before we’d scheduled him to play some solos – and then 2 years later, after we’d forgiven him, when he was included in a big band recording, without permission, he invited a female trumpet player, who’d been married to a couple of the other band members and flirted with half the guys in the room! THAT sure changed the vibe for a while – and not in a good way!
We gave him a good leaving alone for quite some time after that – tho we later started to touch base again with email and the occasional phone call.
A year ago this week Bruce died in his sleep. He was 57 years old.
Rest In Peace, Bruce – we loved you…. but it sure wasn’t easy!