Lorraine Castellanos — an introverted extrovert

Singer/guitarist on gathering groups and repertoire

Lorraine Castellanos: “I’m singing in the grocery store — I don’t care.”
  • Lorraine Castellanos: “I’m singing in the grocery store — I don’t care.”
  • Image by Robert Sanchez

‘It’s so new that I don’t know where it’s going to go,” says musician Lorraine Castellanos over coffee at Lestat’s on Adams Avenue on a windswept afternoon. She is speaking of her latest project, a sextet featuring Robert Dove on saxophone and either husband Gilbert Castellanos or Curtis Taylor on trumpet; Ed Kornhauser on piano, Dean Hulett on bass, and Ryan Shaw on drums. “But I’m very excited about it. I’ve found some guys that I have a real chemistry with, so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I’ve been wanting to be a leader for a project like this for a long time. I’m gathering repertoire — mostly stuff that’s kinda swinging — I’m even thinking about original stuff in the future. I think all the personalities really work together, which is important because, otherwise, the music won’t work. When it feels like family — that’s when the magic happens.

"Tango en Skai"

...performed by Besos de Coco

...performed by Besos de Coco

“We’ve only had three gigs, so everything is really fresh. Hopefully, this will lead to more. I think I really need to get my act together as far as promoting the band. Promoting myself is way harder than playing or singing or practicing. That stuff is the fun part. That stuff comes natural. The social media — that’s tough. The scuffling for gigs that pay well — that’s even tougher [laughs].”

Castellanos is a formally trained classical guitarist, but she didn’t start out that way. “When I was 16 I was doing the coffee-house circuit, trying to find myself musically, just singing and playing guitar. I got a few paying gigs in bars a few years later for, like, $30 here and there. Nowadays, Gilbert has been a constant source of encouragement — urging me to hold out for what I’m worth instead of settling for less just to be working. I feel like I’m still kinda paying my dues, but it’s starting to get easier — people are starting to call me now.”

Castellanos has been involved with the cooperative trio Besos de Coco, featuring tap percussionist Claudia Gomez and upright bassist Evona Wascinski for several years, earning rave reviews along the way. “The Besos de Coco album is coming out in the next couple of weeks. So, I know that there’s like a ton of stuff hopefully connected with that and I’m pretty excited about it. It turned out pretty well. We just played last night after not playing for a while — and it was like magic again. We were so locked in that I almost couldn’t get the words out. We were all laughing because it felt so good.”

Surprisingly, Castellanos didn’t study jazz vocals. “I grew up playing rock,” she says. “But I found my passion in jazz singing. I wasn’t listening to jazz guitarists — I was listening to horn players. When I came to San Diego State, they didn’t really have a jazz vocal program up and running yet, so I tried to play jazz guitar for a while, but I just wasn’t very good at it! I didn’t have the drive to practice that stuff, so I went back to classical and found a new passion in that, and then I decided to apply the discipline of classical guitar to learning jazz singing. I went to jam sessions and I transcribed recordings. I think that was a pretty smart idea.”

Past Event

Besos De Coco

  • Thursday, June 16, 2016, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Westgate Hotel, 1055 Second Avenue, San Diego
  • 21+ / $20

With the new sextet, Castellanos has found a freedom by untethering from the guitar. “I still feel like I’m juggling when I sing and play the guitar at the same time. It feels good to just be singing, because I feel that I’m better at it and I’ve spent more time at it. With the guitar, you always have to sit down and find a place to practice — with your voice you can just practice all the time, which I do. I’m singing in the grocery store — I don’t care. But I also find joy playing classical guitar in the living room.”

For now, the musician is working to overcome some lingering stage fright. “When I’m singing, I try to be at my highest level of preparation. Then I’m not scrambling, not thinking about the next phrase; I’m not thinking about anything. It’s the ‘zone’ people talk about. That’s where I try to be. With this new group it’s happening all the time.

“It’s all about the music and sharing that with other people, making a connection with the audience. That’s a new thing for me. It’s, like, ‘Let’s be in this thing together. This moment.’ That’s new. I used to put up a curtain because I had anxiety, you know. I would just close my eyes and try to concentrate on the music. I don’t know, our ego is so horrible, but I’m getting better at it. I’m an introverted extrovert, I guess!”

Lorraine Castellanos plays June 3 and 16 at the Westgate Hotel downtown and June 25 at 98 Botttles in Little Italy.

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