How big a fan is acclaimed San Diego trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos of jazz giants John Coltrane and Lee Morgan?
So big that he estimates owning at least 50 vinyl albums by each of them.
So big 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 used to assume one of their names, albeit in a non-musical setting.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to be Lee Morgan. Whenever I made a to-go order in a sandwich shop and they asked my name, I’d always say: ‘Morgan,’ ” recalled Castellanos.
He is now back in full swing after undergoing extensive groundbreaking oral surgery last year that saved his career.
Guadalajara-born and Fresno-raised, Castellanos is San Diego’s highest-profile jazz performer, educator and all-around champion.
He performs weekly Friday gigs at downtown’s Westgate Hotel and each Wednesday at Balboa Park’s Panama 66, where he leads jam sessions featuring students from his three-year-old Young Lions Jazz Conservatory, including teen bass wiz John Murray.
Castellanos is now in his sixth year as the jazz curator for the San Diego Symphony. It’s a role that affords him unique opportunities on concert stages to trumpet his love for jazz legends and under-appreciated artists alike.
The tireless trumpeter will do exactly that on Sunday at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the San Diego Symphony’s new $85 million outdoor concert venue.
Titled “A Swingin’ Affair: Music of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan,” the concert will showcase Castellanos and a talent-rich band of jazz veterans and rising talents from both sides of the nation.
That “A Swingin’ Affair” is also the name of a classic 1957 album by Frank Sinatra is purely coincidental. The concert will focus entirely on the music of Coltrane and Morgan.
The lineup of performers includes a frontline of trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and tenor saxophonists Ralph Moore and Joel Frahm. The rhythm section features piano dynamo Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Endea Owens and drummer Willie Jones III, with whom Castellanos has been making music since both were music majors at Cal Arts in the early 1990s.
“This is really my way of being selfish, because I pretty much got the people I love listening to on records and in concert,” Castellanos said. “Now, I get to stand on stage with them, paying tribute to two masters, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan, who have been a huge influence on me.”
To make the evening even more enticing, six of the Coltrane and Morgan classics the band will perform boast new arrangements by nationally acclaimed San Diego pianist Joshua White.
White’s fresh spins on such favorites as Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” should please seasoned and neophyte listeners alike. The fact that Morgan was featured on Coltrane’s superb 1958 album, “Blue Train,” makes Castellanos’ decision to pair music by the two of them even more felicitous.
Other selections at the concert, including Coltrane’s bravura “Giant Steps” and an excerpt from his epic “A Love Supreme,” will likely be led by saxophonists Moore and Frahm. Late-evening TV viewers may recall that Moore played 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 early 2020 shutdown of live events. He can’t wait.
“The acoustics are so good at The Shell that you don’t even need a microphone for your instrument to be heard,” said Castellanos, who performed two private events at the venue earlier this year.
“I’ve played the Hollywood Bowl several times, and there’s no comparison. The Shell is top-notch in every way. To be standing on The Shell’s stage and look out, it’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Because of his extensive dental surgery in 2020, Castellanos was unable to play his trumpet for a good portion of last year. Since resuming performing, he has sounded more poised and passionate than ever at his gigs around town.
Castellanos credits San Diego dentist Roy Vegter, who has also a degree in mechanical engineering, for devising innovative techniques that enable the trumpeter to once again take up his instrument.
“It’s an incredible concept Roy has come up with for me to be able to continue on with 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 will have another surgery, probably in December. I won’t be able to play for a couple of weeks, which is much better than not playing for 6 months.
“Roy is making 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.”
At a glance: John Coltrane
Coltrane, who died in 1967 at the age of 40, remains one of the most influential and trailblazing saxophonists, composers and band leaders in jazz history. After working in bands headed by Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and other legends, he charted a singular musical path that stretched from popular instrumental versions of Broadway and film favorites (“My Favorite Things”) and carefully calibrated displays of virtuosity (“Giant Steps”) to outer-limits explorations (“Ascension”).
At a glance: Lee Morgan
Few hard bop jazz giants have burned as bright for such a short time as trumpet sensation Lee Morgan, who was only 33 when he was shot to death by his wife in 1972. Best-known for such propulsive soul-jazz anthems as “The Sidewinder” and “The Rumproller,” Morgan also wrote and recorded the luminous ballad “Melancholee” and such expansive pieces as “Search for the New Land.”
“A Swingin’ Affair: Music of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan,” featuring Gilbert Castellanos, Ralph Moore, Cyrus Chestnut, and others
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 222 Marina Park Way, downtown
Phone: (619) 235-0804
Health protocols: Mask-wearing is encouraged