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Gilbert Castellanos Returns Home
When Gilbert Castellanos left Fresno in the early 1990's, he was an aspiring trumpet student, with a love for jazz. When he returns on Friday February 9th to perform with his quintet at his alma mater, Roosevelt School of the Arts, he comes back as a rising jazz star. One of the top trumpet players in Southern California, an adjunct instructor at USC, and a featured soloist behind stars like Diana Krall, Gilbert's music mixes the sound of vintage Blue Note era hard bop with his own unique influences. His successful career is also a prominent reminder of the importance of music education in our public schools.
Gilbert's musical roots run deep. Born in Guadalajara in 1972, Gilbert's father was a musician, with several popular recordings in Mexico in the 1960's with the group Gil Castellanos y Su Copacabana. "I got started at a very young age, I think I was six when, My father would rehearse, he had a 12 to 15 piece salsa/cumbia/merengue band, so all the musicians would come over to the house to rehearse, and I would just hang around watching them,"? said Castellanos. "For some reason the trumpet was the instrument that I was attracted to at that age. Paul Shaghoian was one of the trumpet players who was playing with them, playing at some of the clubs around town. Paul actually ended up being one of my private teachers and that's how I got started playing the trumpet"?
Gilbert's love of jazz began early on. At Fort Miller Middle School, he managed to convince his band director, Dana Twyford, to start the school's first ever jazz band. "For some reason jazz was something I would listen to even as a young kid. I was always considered the odd one when it came to hang out with kids at school, because I was the only one that listened to jazz. I had nothing in common with a lot of the kids my age," said Castellanos.
His love for playing of hard bop trumpet star Freddie Hubbard is a good example of how Gilbert was a little "different" from other kids his age. "I discovered Freddie Hubbard in high school. It's kind of funny that you mention Freddie, because at the time he was playing in the Bay Area quite a bit," said Castellanos. "I used to sneak out of my house [to go see Freddie]. You think back when you're a kid, a lot of these kids between the ages of 16 and 18 they sneak out to go to parties and go drink and stuff like that. I was sneaking out of my house to go drive to San Francisco to go hear Freddie play, and I would get back at like six in the morning. And I did that a few times Finally my mother finally caught me, and said "what are you doing out," and I told her and she said ok, "In the future, let me know, and I'll give you some money so you can stay the night there, because I don't want you to be driving that late at night." I was like a Freddie fanatic back then, I was trying to absorb everything that Freddie was doing, buying all of this recording, trying to find videos, I was just really in Freddie. Freddie and Lee Morgan were probably my biggest influences when I was in high school."
Gilbert's love of the music flourished while he attended Fresno's Roosevelt School of the Arts. "I considered myself to be very lucky to be involved in a program like that, and to have a great instructor like Steve Alcala, because I believe at the time, we were probably one of the only schools in the nation that had an Afro-Cuban ensemble," said Castellanos. "And in I was really proud of that because not only was I being exposed to playing in a jazz band and in a jazz combo but we also had an Afro Cuban ensemble and that really kind of made the school stand out in a big way. And I just thank Steve Alcala for that because he really pushed us and exposed us to great music. He would bring in great musicians to work with us, Poncho Sanchez came in to work with us, Tito Puente, Bobby Shew. I mean I just remember all these great musicians coming through town. Nowadays, you don't even hear about stuff like that in high schools, you're lucky to even have a concert band in high school with the budget cuts and everything, so I'm just really glad to see that Steve's still doing it and really pushing the music department there at Roosevelt."
Gilbert went on to study jazz at Boston's Berklee College of Music and at the prestigious Cal Arts Academy in Southern California. While there, he became a part of the band "Black/Note" a hard bop based combo that recorded several major label albums in hard bop renaissance of the mid 1990's.
Eventually he settled in San Diego, where he's had a significant impact, helping to breathe new life and energy into the city's downtown jazz scene. Along the way, Gilbert has also become an in-demand trumpet artist in the busy LA jazz and studio scene, and has performed with major stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Haden, Les McCann and Poncho Sanchez.
Currently Gilbert is an integral part of two of Southern California's most acclaimed jazz ensembles, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and the Anthony Wilson Nonet. A featured trumpet soloist with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, Gilbert's solos can be heard on Diana Krall's new CD "From This Moment On"(Verve - 2006), as well as on the band's "Live at MCG" release (MCG — 2005). On Anthony Wilson's latest CD "The Power of Nine (Groove Note — 2006) Gilbert is featured alongside another Fresnan, noted mandolinist Eva Scow.
His first album as a leader "The Gilbert Castellanos Hammond B-3 Quartet" came out in 1999. His newest release "Underground" was released in June 2006, and captures Castellanos with his regular working band, including tenor saxophonist Tom Catanzaro, pianist Mikan Zlatkovich, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Kevin Kanner. This same group will perform with Gilbert in Fresno on February 9th.
Gilbert's music draws heavily from the hard bop era of the 1950's and 60's, so often associated with the Blue Note record label. In Gilbert's fiery and passionate tone, and soaring and lyrical improvisations, one can hear echoes of past trumpet stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. But Gilbert's music also incorporates new influences and sounds, such as the Middle Eastern tinged song "La Tinsa…Ana Hona"? on "Underground", or his lush ballad performance of Augustin Lara's "Solamente una Vez."
Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times writes of Gilbert: "[Castellanos] plays with élan, evincing a more individual, ever-large sound offering hard swinging, often ear-grabbing solos. Castellanos is yet another artist who proves that music with deep roots in jazz's glorious '50s and '60s can sound completely contemporary today."
Gilbert's performance in Fresno, Friday February 9th is part of the JazzFresno Spring Concert Series, which will also feature vocalist Tierney Sutton (at City Jazz — March 30th) and guitarist Anthony Wilson's Brazilian Project (May 18th) with special guest Eva Scow. The concert starts at 7:30pm at the Roosevelt High Auditorium. Prior to the concert, JazzFresno will host a "conversation with the artist" at 6:30pm. Tickets are $15 general, $12 JazzFresno members, and $7 for students. Tickets are available at the Kern Street Coffee Company, Tower Theatre Box Office, Sierra Nut House — Villagio, and Roosevelt School of the Arts Office. This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Community Enrichment Program, administered by the Fresno Arts Council. More information is available at http://www.jazzfresno.org
JazzFresno is a non-profit organization, dedicated to promoting jazz in the Central San Joaquin Valley through education and performance.