“In the end, I think it was just time to move on,” said Gilbert Castellanos, referring to the abrupt termination of his long-running Wednesday-night jam session at El Camino in Little Italy. “The jam will continue, though. That’s in my blood — I’ve been hosting jam sessions since I was 15 years old, back in Fresno — and I plan to be doing them when I’m 75 and in a wheelchair.”
When Castellanos got to town, he started up a jam at the Onyx, a Tuesday-night affair than ran for almost ten years. “That split got pretty ugly,” he said without providing details.
I arrived an hour early for the trumpeter’s gig at 98 Bottles to get his take on the sudden demise of a gig that’s been a huge success, by all accounts, for the past three years. “I just thought it was time to try something different,” Castellanos said. “I was getting the vibe that they might want to move on, too. Probably put a DJ in there, like they have every other night of the week.”
Castellanos had asked for certain amenities over the years, such as lighting and an acoustic piano, but he didn’t get them. He plans on starting up a new situation in a new location.
“After I posted on Facebook that October 31 would be the last gig [at El Camino], I immediately got feelers from four other clubs that were all interested in me hosting a jam. I’m going to have to think about it, because, ultimately, I want the same respect from the club owners that I get from the audience. There are other things, too, like having a piano, and I would really like for it to be an all-ages venue, so I can continue to get the youngsters coming in....
“The thing that kept me inspired to come there every week was that I got to witness all of these young players grow leaps and bounds in their playing. They were using the El Camino as a school, to get it together.... I’ll never forget that’s how I learned and developed, in that environment.”
It’s important for the trumpeter to make musicians feel at ease. “I want it to feel like they’ve been invited to my home for a nice dinner.... If you come to my jam and you’re shitting in your pants because you don’t know what to play, I’m going to let you call what you’re comfortable with — I’m not going to put you on the spot — I’ve been there.”