From Salsa to Service: Musician 2nd Class Cesar Pimental Ortiz

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansAugust 2023 • August 20, 2023

221115-A-MC125-1936 CARTAGENA, Colombia (Nov. 14, 2022) Musician 2nd Class Cesar Pimentel Ortiz, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces Band, plays the trombone at Fundacion El Rosario during Continuing Promise, Nov. 14, 2022. Comfort is deployed to U.S. 4th Fleet in support of Continuing Promise 2022, a humanitarian assistance and goodwill mission conducting direct medical care, expeditionary veterinary care, and subject matter expert exchanges with five partner nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ruben Rodriguez Santiago)

Music has the power to transcend borders and reach people from all cultures. This was the case for Musician 2nd Class Cesar Pimentel Ortiz who grew up listening to salsa and other Latin music in Puerto Rico. This soundtrack became the inspiration for his pursuit of musical studies in Puerto Rico’s distinguished conservatory. A path that led him to a rewarding career as a musician in the United States Navy.

Pimentel Ortiz credits his musical versatility to his trombone influences, from names like Joseph Alessi and Michael Mulcahy to Willie Colón and Toñito Vazquez. 

“They have a really defined voice. You know that they have been pillars of their genre, whether in classical music or salsa and Latin. Their unique trombone sound has taught me that I must have a strong voice in order to be someone in this business.”

Pimentel Ortiz started playing the trombone at the age of 14 and his love of music was immediate. He attended the Esquella Libre de Musica de Caguas, a government-funded music program, where he played in music ensembles and took private lessons. His first teacher, Luti Maldonado, had a huge influence on his playing. 

“He had recorded more than 500 CDs, and so I started listening to those. I was so proud studying with him and so proud that he was a fellow Puerto Rican and that he did that for a living. He was a great mentor because of that.”

After high school, Pimentel Ortiz attended the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music where he studied trombone performance with Luis Fred of the Puerto Rico Symphony. He credits these experiences in the conservatory trombone studio studying various genres for his growth as a musician.

Following college, Pimentel Ortiz worked several music jobs while also selling cars. When he found out that Navy Music was coming to Puerto Rico to hold auditions in January 2017, he took the audition and was offered a job with the U.S. Navy as a fleet band musician. 

“Joining the Navy has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Not only have I been able to play with people from different backgrounds and musical experiences, I’ve been able to be a part of missions like Continuing Promise 2022, which provided me with a much bigger picture of my role as a musician in the Navy.“ 

221117-N-TR141-1137 TURBACO, Colombia (Nov. 17, 2022) Musician 2nd Class Cesar Pimentel Ortiz, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces Band aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), dances with a music teacher during a performance at the Cakiki foundation, a community music school in Turbaco, Colombia, Nov. 17, 2022. Comfort is deployed to U.S. 4th Fleet in support of Continuing Promise 2022, a humanitarian assistance and goodwill mission conducting direct medical care, expeditionary veterinary care, and subject matter expert exchanges with five partner nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin Lewis)

Continuing Promise is an annual military exercise with allied partners that provides humanitarian assistance, medical care and community support to underserved regions around the world. As part of the U.S. Fleet Forces Band which deploys each year for the exercise, Pimentel Ortiz used his musical skills to connect with people across cultures and languages, transcending barriers and fostering goodwill through community engagement and cultural exchanges. The 2022 exercise traveled through Central and South America, which had a profound impact on Pimentel Ortiz.

“It felt like going back home, because at the end of the day we Latinos are a big family. Yes, we have big differences when it comes to culture, food and geography, but at the end of the day we are united by the Spanish language and our welcoming spirit. So, for me it was going back home with a sense of patriotism. I was giving back what had been given to me.”

Serving in the Navy as a musician has helped Pimentel Ortiz discover his sense of purpose and has allowed him to have a positive impact on the world using his using his musical skills; a responsibility he takes very seriously.

“The difference between us and a professional orchestra is that people can see us for free. I grew up poor, so for me it was impossible to see those groups because I didn’t have the money to afford tickets. Professional military bands are a really great vehicle to inspire people like me to pursue music.” 

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