Castellanos wins big at the SDMA

First time an Artist of the Year goes to a jazz musician

Photo by Tom Harten
  • Photo by Tom Harten

"To be honest, I've been going to these things every year for the last 18 years," says trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos of the San Diego Music Awards. "And I've learned to accept that I'm probably not going to win, based on how that whole thing is structured, you know, you can have somebody new to the jazz category whose friends vote for them 15 times a day for two months."

So when his name was called the first time in a ceremony that would ultimately yield an unprecedented three trophies to the Normal Heights musician, he thought, "This is the award I'm going to win, and that's it." Sometime later when Best Jazz Album was announced, Castellanos heard his name the second time, for Federal Jazz Project. "I was really shocked. At that point, I'm thinking, This is incredible. I've just won two awards, I'm thanking the gods, the stars are lining up for me tonight...but now, I'm late for my gig. That, to me is really my award — getting out to play. I felt bad because my guys had to start without me."

So he split early to make it to his weekly jam-session at North Park's 7 Grand Whiskey Bar. Even though he was still nominated for Artist of the Year, Castellanos was sure he had no shot at the win.

How did he get the news?

"I was already at 7 Grand, probably on my second solo, and I got off the stage and Joshua White comes up to me with his phone, smiling and shoving it in my face, and it's the announcement from the SDMA for Artist of the Year. It was so surreal, it couldn't be happening to me. Because if you look at the history, this is the first time a jazz artist has won in 25 years, so I thought it can't be true, there must be some kind of mistake."

Having lived in bigger jazz markets like L.A. and Boston, how does Castellanos rate our town in comparison?

"I don't think I would have had the confidence to say this maybe four or five years ago, but now I strongly believe that the San Diego scene, our scene, is no longer in the shadow of Los Angeles," Castellanos said. "We're putting a name out there for ourselves and getting a great reputation. We have stellar musicians that live here and tour nationally, like Geoffrey Keezer and Charles McPherson, and we have people like Joshua White who I really have a lot of respect for, and the pioneers like Peter Sprague, Joe Marillo, and the godfather, Daniel Jackson.

"It's people like that that make me realize there's no reason to move. I've thought about it, but I'm proud of our scene, and I'm happy to represent it. I moved here in '95, and there was already a strong thing happening, and I just built on that. What I'm seeing now is that the biggest supporters of our music are really the hipsters, man. I'm seeing a younger generation coming out full-force, trying to understand what this music is all about."

Speaking of the younger generation, are there up and comers that excite the trumpeter?

"Oh man, there's a great young drummer that just moved from here to L.A., Ryan Shaw. I have never met a musician who's that serious. There's a couple of people that I'm watching that are still in high school that are just completely blowing me away. You have two saxophone players, Kyle Myers and Nathan Collins, that are, like 15, 17 years old. And these kids are hungry, man. I have to watch my back, 'cause they're gonna try and steal my gigs. They want to play."

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