Congrats to Gilbert Castellanos
2017 San Diego Jazz Hero
Presented by the Jazz Journalists Association
Mayor Proclaims April 26
“Gilbert Castellanos Jazz Hero Day!”

Trumpet master Gilbert Castellanos would be a "jazz hero" anywhere simply on the basis of his startling skills on the instrument and unending energy for honoring and extending the jazz tradition. He is a ubiquitous bandleader of multiple ensembles, a member of the Los Angeles-based Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra -- he travels 90 miles to perform with that group -- and director of the San Diego Symphony's jazz series. But Castellanos has done something much more profound than embodying the definition of "virtuoso." Through years of devotion, he has become the voice of the San Diego jazz community.

Born in Guadalajara, where his father led a cumbia band, Gilbert listened to jazz from his California grammar school days on. He graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston and California Institute of the Arts in Valencia before landing in San Diego in the mid '90s. Once here, he almost immediately began hosting jam sessions, a practice he continues in order to advance his chief concern: Shaping the next generations of musicians.

Castellanos does this through two distinct yet interrelated institutions: his Young Lions Series, which showcases players as young as nine in weekly Wednesday night performances at Panama 66 at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, and the International Academy of Jazz, the after-school program of which he’s artistic director, aiming to feed the top ranks of musicians nationwide.

These programs have transformed the lives of dozens of nascent musicians, resulting in scholarships to music programs at Berklee, North Texas State University, University of Southern California, UCLA and San Jose State University, among other institutions. What Castellanos offers high school seniors isn't limited to advice and inspiration -- he also gives many of them Wednesday session gigs.

"I want to invest my time into the future of jazz," Castellanos says. "I think it's extremely important to pass that torch down to the next generation. I want to teach these kids to play jazz the way I was taught when I was their age. I was lucky enough to hang out with Dizzy Gillespie and all the greats and they showed me things that you cannot learn in school. You have to be school smart and street smart. I've done both."

Which is why the Young Lions Series is so dear to him. "My mission is to have a night and a venue dedicated to young musicians. Now they can showcase their talent and I'm able to present them where they can get the experience and feeling of a real-life performance."

Castellanos considers the San Diego jazz community his extended family and acts on that belief. When I suffered a stroke in 2015, Gilbert was the first to offer help, organizing a benefit concert that helped me survive while I recovered. He's demonstrated such generosity countless times, anchoring benefits for ailing musicians including tenor saxophonists Gary LeFebvre and Daniel Jackson and trumpeter Bill Caballero.

Musically, Castellanos has made a deep impression across the spectrum of world-class improvisers. "His fire and mastery of the music is only equaled by his consistent dedication to the perpetuation of the tradition through his mentoring of younger players," writes avant-garde bassist Mark Dresser. Bebop alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, who first brought Gilbert into professional jazz, says, "He isn't just a wonderful trumpet player. He's willing to dedicate a lot of time and energy to the youngsters. That’s a very admirable quality." It is the very essence of Gilbert Castellanos, Jazz Hero.
-- Robert Bush