Who’s the fan of acclaimed San Diego trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, jazz giants John Coltrane and Lee Morgan?
So big that he estimates he owns at least 50 vinyl albums by each of them.
So great that he can name the most obscure recordings that featured Morgan and Coltrane as sidemen before they launched their solo careers.
And so big that he regularly took one of their names, albeit in a non-musical setting.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to be Lee Morgan. Whenever I placed a take-out order at a sandwich shop and was asked my name, I always said, “Morgan,” Castellanos recalls.
He is now back in full swing after undergoing breakthrough oral surgery last year that saved his career.
Born in Guadalajara and raised in Fresno, Castellanos is San Diego’s most prominent jazz performer, educator and champion.
He performs weekly concerts on Fridays at the Westgate Hotel downtown and every Wednesday at Panama 66 in Balboa Park, where he leads jam sessions featuring students from his three-year-old Young Lions Jazz Conservatory, including John Murray , the young bass assistant.
Castellanos is now in his sixth year as a jazz curator for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. It’s a role that affords him unique opportunities on the concert stages to indulge his love for jazz legends and underrated artists.
The tireless trumpet player will do just that on Sunday at Rady Shell in Jacobs Park, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s new $85 million outdoor concert hall.
Titled “A Swingin’ Affair: Music of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan,” the concert will feature Castellanos and a talent-rich band of jazz veterans and up-and-coming talent from both sides of the country.
That “A Swingin’ Affair” is also the name of a classic 1957 Frank Sinatra album is pure coincidence. The concert will be entirely devoted to the music of Coltrane and Morgan.
The lineup of performers includes a front line of trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and tenor saxophonists Ralph Moore and Joel Frahm. The rhythm section includes piano dynamo Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Endea Owens and drummer Willie Jones III, whom Castellanos has been making music with since they were both adults at Cal Arts in the early 1990s.
“It’s really my way of being selfish, because I’ve pretty much got the people I love to listen on records and in concert,” Castellanos said. “Now I can take the stage with them, paying homage to two masters, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan, who had a huge influence on me.”
To make the evening even more enticing, six of the Coltrane and Morgan classics the band will perform will feature new arrangements by nationally acclaimed San Diego pianist Joshua White.
White’s new takes on favorites like Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” should appeal to seasoned listeners and newbies alike. The fact that Morgan was featured on Coltrane’s superb 1958 album, “Blue Train,” makes Castellanos’ decision to pair the music of the two even happier.
Other selections at the concert, including Coltrane’s bravura “Giant Steps” and a snippet from his epic “A Love Supreme,” will likely be led by saxophonists Moore and Frahm. Late-night viewers may recall that Moore performed in the house band on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” from 1995 to 2010.
Sunday’s concert at The Shell will be Castellanos’ first for the symphony since the live events halted in early 2020. He can’t wait.
“The acoustics are so good at The Shell that you don’t even need a microphone to get your instrument heard,” said Castellanos, who hosted two private events at the venue earlier this year.
“I’ve played the Hollywood Bowl many times, and there’s no comparison. The Shell is top notch in every way. Standing on the stage at The Shell and looking out is absolutely stunning.
Due to his extensive dental surgery in 2020, Castellanos was unable to play trumpet for much of the last year. Since resuming his concerts, he has seemed more poised and passionate than ever during his concerts around town.
Castellanos credits San Diego dentist Roy Vegter, also a mechanical engineering graduate, with devising innovative techniques that allow the trumpeter to take up his instrument again.
“It’s an incredible concept that Roy has come up with for me to continue my career,” Castellanos said.
“I’m still the subject of a (dental) study group and they seem to have come to the conclusion that they have a plan for me. So I’m going to have another operation, probably in December. I won’t be able to play for a few weeks, which is much better than not playing for 6 months.
“Roy makes me a temporary bridge that will protect the implants in my mouth while they heal, which has never been done before, so I can still play.”
Briefly: John Coltrane
Coltrane, who died in 1967 at the age of 40, remains one of the most influential and pioneering saxophonists, composers and bandleaders in the history of jazz. After working in bands led by Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and other legends, he forged a singular musical path that spanned popular instrumental versions of Broadway and favorite movies (“My Favorite Things”) and demonstrations from carefully calibrated virtuosity (“Giant Steps”) to explorations of the outer limits (“Ascension”).
In Brief: Lee Morgan
Few hard bop jazz giants have shone as brightly for such a short period as trumpet sensation Lee Morgan, who was just 33 when he was shot by his wife in 1972. Best known for soulful anthems- propulsive jazz as ‘The Sidewinder’ and ‘The Rumproller’, Morgan also wrote and recorded the luminous ballad ‘Melancholee’ and other expansive pieces like “Searching for the New Earth”.
“A Swingin’ Affair: Music of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan”, with Gilbert Castellanos, Ralph Moore, Cyrus Chestnut and others
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Or: The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 222 Marina Park Way, Downtown
Call: (619) 235-0804
In line: theshell.org
Health protocols: Wearing a mask is encouraged