Southern California trumpet virtuoso, Gilbert Castellanos, makes music that sounds effortless. Skilled with impressive dexterity and control, his clarity of expression moves listeners on a deeply emotional level.
Recognized as a new American master by Downbeat magazine, Castellanos has established himself as one of the nation’s most inventive improvisers in stirring live performances as a member of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Anthony Wilson Nonet, Charles McPherson Quintet, Willie Jones III Quintet, and as leader of his own groups.
Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times says: “[Castellanos] plays with élan, evincing a more individual, ever-large sound offering hard swinging, often ear-grabbing solos…[proving] that music with deep roots in jazz’s glorious ’50s and ’60s can sound completely contemporary today.”
Slated for release in Fall, 2010, his forthcoming album as leader of Gilbert Castellanos and the New Latin Jazz Quintet is likely to change the way we think about West Coast jazz. Seamlessly drawing on his two lifelong influences — the hardbop pioneers of modern jazz who have inspired him, and the rhythmic pulse of the Latino heritage that nurtured him — Castellanos has channeled a passionate dedication to his art form, and a life immersed in the diverse and vibrant culture of his home state of California, into this, his third solo effort.
Castellanos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his father performed as leader, singer and arranger of the popular cumbia band, Gil Castellanos y Su Copacabana. His father’s love for classical composers and big band jazz broadened young Gilbert’s horizons from an early age, and he was encouraged to become a jazz musician. By the time he’d reached elementary school in California, Castellanos was listening to Freddie Hubbard on his Walkman and playing the theme from Rocky on his first day in band class.
After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Cal Arts in Los Angeles, Gilbert Castellanos quickly rose to national attention as a member of the celebrated band Black/Note, with whom he recorded three albums: “L.A. Underground” (Red Records), Jungle Music (Columbia Records) and “Nothin’ But the Swing” (Impulse Records). His recording career since Black/Note has seen Castellanos thrive as a player, bandleader, composer and arranger on two acclaimed albums: his soulful 1999 self-titled debut release, “The Gilbert Castellanos Hammond B3 Quartet,” and his eclectic second offering, “Underground” (Seedling Records, 2006).
Between recordings, Gilbert Castellanos keeps busy as one of the most respected sidemen and soloists working today. Grammy winning bassist and co-leader of the Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra, John Clayton, recalls that when he first heard Gilbert play with their band, Jeff Hamilton turned to him and said, “He’s a breath of fresh air!” Now, seated beside Count Basie band veteran, Snooky Young, Castellanos has become an integral force in the success of this world famous touring and recording ensemble. Clayton appreciates how Castellanos “always finds new life and new energy to breath into the notes I write and the grooves we play with him.” The performing and recording credits keep growing: Gilbert Castellanos has worked with world-reknown artists Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Hayden, Les McCann, Poncho Sanchez, Diana Krall, Willie Nelson, Michael Buble, and Natalie Cole, to name a few. In 2009, he played live for millions of listeners as a member of the supporting band on “American Idol.”
A passionate advocate of formal jazz education, Castellanos regularly conducts high school workshops and is a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
He is also a firm believer in the type of “real world” education jazz musicians have counted on to learn the ropes since the music was born. In his chosen home of San Diego, California, for nearly two decades, he has been hosting a legendary weekly jam session in various downtown warehouses and clubs. Currently, you can catch his session on Wednesday nights at Super El Camino, where Castellanos develops new material with his own band, while giving up-and-coming players a chance to perform with seasoned professionals.
Castellanos says he will “never give up” in his tireless effort to “put the West Coast back on the map.” His fans and fellow musicians know how important a figure he is, not only to the birth of a new West Coast sound, but also in helping, as Castellanos always puts it, “keep jazz alive.”
— D.A. Kolodenko, San Diego CityBeat