Gilbert Castellanos Brings Jazz to the Symphony

Castellanos opens up about "the biggest thing I've ever put my name next to"

“Nov. 21 is our first concert,” relates trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos over breakfast in North Park. “I’m really excited, and I’m a little nervous about delivering the goods, so to speak, because this is probably the biggest thing I’ve ever put my name next to. I don’t want to disappoint anybody, so I’m really putting my heart and soul into this.”

Castellanos is referring to his association with the San Diego Symphony, who are embarking on a regular collaboration with the musician called Jazz at the Jacobs. The trumpeter has been named artistic curator for the series, and they are beginning with an all-star affair that also showcases a performance by the International Academy of Jazz, a group of young players that Castellanos mentors.

“What will really make this inaugural concert special is that I have my kids opening for us,” says Castellanos. “They are like the all-star young lions. I think just the chance to hear these kids alone would be worth the price of admission.”

After the opening act, things will continue with the main event: the Legends of Jazz. That moniker isn’t hyperbole. Check out the lineup: “It will feature Charles McPherson and Tom Scott on saxophones, vocalist Barbara Morrison, bassists Henry Franklin and Marshall Hawkins, drummer Roy McCurdy, pianist Mike Wofford and flutist Holly Hofmann.”

How will he deal with all of that talent on one stage?

“My concept is to present them like a Jazz at the Philharmonic,” says the musician, referencing the groundbreaking series produced by Norman Granz for nearly 40 years. “I want to start with a big first number with everyone on stage -- like a big jam session -- then break into smaller groups so that everyone gets featured, then finish with everyone back on stage for the finale!”

The series will eventually feature four concerts over the next seven months, all at the acoustically amazing Symphony Hall. Tickets for the November date range from $20 to $65.

“The next one is not until January,” Castellanos continues. “That’s the piano player’s summit concert. It will feature Eric Reed from L.A., Helen Sung from NYC and our very own Joshua White, with Rodney Whittaker and Willie Jones III on bass and drums. The program is a tribute to Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and that happens on Jan. 23.

“The third concert is on Feb. 19. That’s the only one that falls on a Friday. The rest all happen on Saturday nights. That one will feature vocalist Dianne Reeves with her band, and I will be opening with my group Latin Trumpet Summit, which features three trumpets and an Afro-Cuban rhythm section.

“The grand finale happens on May 7, and it’s gonna feature the Grammy-award-winning vocalist Gregory Porter. I’ll be opening with a tribute to Jimmy Smith, featuring some heavy-duty organ players.”

Castellanos is grateful for the opportunity. “As far as the Jacobs Series, I really want to thank Tommy Phillips, who is the director of artistic planning. He’s really the guy that brought all this to the table, and of course, Martha Gilmer, the new CEO of the Symphony, who is really making things happen. And I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a beautiful thing because I really want to step up my game and make the community aware of the series. That’s my biggest goal right now.”

For tickets, call the San Diego Symphony box office at 619-235-0804 or visit the website at

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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