Student Profile: Otto Gross II

Lesley Mahoney
September 18, 2007
Otto Gross II<br><b>Hometown</b>: Owings Mills, Maryland<br><b>Major</b>: Music Education<br><b>Instrument</b>: Drum Set<br><b>Styles</b>: Jazz, Gospel, and R&B
Otto Gross in Ear Training class.
Photo by Bill Gallery
Photo by Bill Gallery

Like a lot of drummers, Otto Gross got his first taste for making music with the help of some improvised instruments: pots and pans.

Gross was 3 years old when he started banging on the makeshift kitchen instruments. A few years later, his father bought him his first bona fide drum set, he recalls.

Inspired by his older cousin, a drummer, "I always wanted to play the drums," he says.

"When I'm on the drums—I know it's cliché to say I feel on top of the world—but you actually do feel some sort of transcendence when you're there," Gross says. "There's something about rhythm that I really dig."

Listen to "When the Saints Go Marching In"

Piano: Steven Chaplin
Bass: Karl Rasheed-Abel
Drums: Otto Gross II

Indeed, Gross sees rhythm everywhere he goes, including in people walking across the street. "You'll see steps and you'll see rhythm."

When he was in high school, Gross added another instrument to his musical repertoire: the piano.

He learned to play the piano in 11th grade and when the organist for his church left, Gross filled those shoes, playing the piano.

Meanwhile, Gross's musical taste also evolved. Active in his church growing up, Gross was into gospel music. Then, around the age of 13, Gross was turned onto jazz by his uncle Mark Gross, a Berklee graduate, and John Coltrane's Giant Steps album.

But no matter the instrument or style, Gross was hooked on music and knew he would be in it for the long haul. Looking back, though, he sees that his vision for his future was too narrow and credits his mother for giving him some sound advice that broadened his scope.

"I was very naïve," he says. "I just wanted to play music and didn't want to have to do anything else," he recalls. "But my mother would say, 'I don't want you just to be a good musician. I want you to be an intelligent musician who knows the business. So I'm thankful for that."

Though his parents resisted Gross's wish to attend an arts high school, he still continued to pursue music at his high school, participating in various bands, from jazz to marching to polka.

When it came time for college, Gross's mother said, "You get to choose because I'm happy with what happened in high school," he recalls.

"Berklee was my first choice," he says.

After finishing up his second semester, Gross is pumped for his studies at Berklee. "Second semester was just as fun as first semester, but a lot harder," he says.

Gross is loving his experience here, especially taking ensemble classes. "They are the most fun part of Berklee because you get to play with classmates and get grades for it," he says, noting he's participated in a variety of ensembles, from jazz to r&b to hip-hop to gospel.

Gross is also involved in other musical groups in and around campus, but cautions students against taking on too much. "Make sure you don't play for everyone that asks you to play for them," he says. "You still have to get your work done."

Working with his private instructor Francisco Mela, assistant professor in the Percussion Department, has also been rewarding. "I love him because he's very innovative," Gross says. "I really dig him as a teacher."

His advice for incoming students? "When you get here, just make sure you study. Or even before you get to Berklee," he says. "Make sure you're set with solfege. Learn the theory of it because it will be a lot easier to come through the classes. . . Make sure you study harmony and ear training before you get here."

Beyond his studies, Gross—a self-described "people person" who plans to major in music education—is soaking up the diversity at Berklee. "Berklee is extremely diverse," he says. "I'm learning a couple of languages here through friends, so that's cool. My friend Roy is from Puerto Rico. I'm learning a lot of Spanish. I'm also learning some French. It's fun. I'm eating it all up."

One thing is for sure. There is no place Gross would rather be. "If heaven is better than this, then I'm going to really love heaven."

Otto's Top Five Jazz Artists

  • Cannonball Adderley
  • Freddie Hubbard
  • Branford Marsalis
  • Brian Blade
  • Mark Gross