Gilbert Castellanos is a renowned musician, composer, curator, educator and arranger, and one of the country’s top-call jazz trumpeters. Skilled with impressive dexterity and control, his clarity of expression moves listeners on a deeply emotional level with music that sounds effortless.
Castellanos was highlighted in Internationally acclaimed DownBeat Magazine’s 2009 feature “25 For The Future” as one of the nation’s most innovative jazz trumpeters. Established as one of the nation's most inventive improvisers, he can be seen around the world in stirring live performances as a member of the renowned Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and nationally as a band leader of his own groups. He toured extensively as a former member of the Anthony Wilson Nonet, Charles McPherson Quintet and Willie Jones III Quintet.
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."
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.
After completing his formal music education at two of the nation’s renowned institutions, Berklee College of Music in Boston and Cal Arts in Los Angeles, 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 three acclaimed albums: his soulful 1999 self-titled debut release "The Gilbert Castellanos Hammond B3 Quartet,” his eclectic second offering "Underground" (Seedling Records, 2006) and “The Federal Jazz Project” (Dobie Music, 2013).
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, heard Castellanos play with their band, Jeff Hamilton turned to him and said, "He's a breath of fresh air!"
While seated beside Count Basie band veteran Snooky Young, Castellanos grew as an integral force in the success of this world famous touring and recording ensemble. According to Clayton, he appreciated how Castellanos "always finds new life and new energy to breathe into the notes I write and the grooves we play with him." The performing and recording credits keep growing: Castellanos has worked with internationally acclaimed artists Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Horace Silver, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Oscar Hernandez, Les McCann, 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."
Over the years, Castellanos has received continuous recognition for his musical endeavors. At the 2017 San Diego Music Awards (SDMA), where he and his Young Lions All-Stars band received the evening’s only standing ovation, he was named Best Jazz Artist for the sixth time. Over the years SDMA selected both his “Underground” and “The Federal Jazz Project” recordings (the latter, all original score by Castellanos as part of a musical theater collaboration with the San Diego Repertory Theater) to receive it’s prized “Jazz Album of the Year.” Castellanos was also recognized by the SDMA as it’s overall “Artist of the Year” in 2013, as well as “Jazz Artist of the Year” in 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2002, 2001.
In 2017 and 2016, he was named “Best Jazz Band/Musician” in the San Diego City Beat magazine’s annual reader’s poll, and honored as one of the region’s top Music Educator’s by the San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory. He also received accolades from the City of Los Angeles and Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo for his participation in the 3rd annual 2016 Latin Jazz & Music Festival. The San Diego Theater Critics Circle bestowed it’s 2013 “Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Musical Performance In A Play” to Castellanos for his work in “The Federal Jazz Project.”
A passionate advocate of formal jazz education, Castellanos is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory based in San Diego, California. Prior to that, he served as the Artistic Director of the International Academy of Jazz San Diego from 2014-2016, and 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. A champion and advocate for the “next generation of jazz,” Castellanos is the Founder and Curator of The Young Lions Series, a two-hour weekly program highlighting the brightest up-and-coming middle and high school jazz musicians from San Diego and Southern California, many of whom he has personally taught and mentored. He has hosted over 80 nights and over 250 young musicians in the series to date.
In San Diego, his chosen home of over two decade, Castellanos has hosted THE WEDNESDAY JAZZ JAM, the city's longest-running and legendary weekly jam session, in various locations including downtown warehouses and clubs such as The Onyx Room and Seven Grand. Currently, you can catch his session on Wednesday nights at Panama 66 at the San Diego Museum of Art, where Castellanos develops new material with his own band, while giving up-and-coming players a chance to perform with seasoned professionals. Panama 66 was recognized as City Beat Magazine’s “2016 Best Jazz Venue,” making it the heartbeat of the jazz scene in America’s Finest City.
For two decades, Castellanos has been and is a leader in the overall establishment of the San Diego jazz scene, and says he will "never give up" in his tireless effort to "put the West Coast back on the map." And he is doing that as Artistic Curator of significant collaborations with major art organizations including: The San Diego Museum of Art’s new “Portraits In Jazz” series launching in August 2017; The San Diego Symphony’s Jazz @ The Jacobs, a highly successful series entering into it’s third season. Since 2015, he has brought some of the biggest stars of the jazz world - Diane Reeves, Gregory Porter, Eric Reed, Roy McCurdy, Helen Sung, and Chucho Valdez - center stage at the Jacobs Music Center in Downtown San Diego.
As a Resident Composer for the San Diego Ballet, he contributes original work to the company that is married with the choreography of award-winnering Artistic Director Javier Velasco. For his latest composition, Castellanos presented “Dia De Los Muertos,” an AfroCuban suite consisting of eight movements honoring individuals who have inspired him in his life and have passed away, including saxophonist Daniel Jackson, guitariest Mundell Lowe, and his longtime section leader in the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Snooky Young.
In 2020, look for Castellanos to release a personal experssion of thanks to the San Diego music community to include his original compostion, the eight-movement “Dia De Los Muertos” suite as his third recording, with a fourth independent release of new original music centered around his current health challenge. (See ABOUT > Health Update)
Fans and fellow musicians know how important a figure he is, not only to the West Coast sound, but also in helping, as Castellanos always puts it, "keep jazz alive" in Southern California and beyond.