San Diego Ballet has a long standing tradition of collaboration with local artists of the highest artistic caliber. Over the years we have created enduring relationships with artists of various disciplines, including, most importantly, composers. Beginning with renowned pianist David Burge, we have often maintained a position of Resident Composer. In keeping with our commitment to produce annual jazz and latin programs, we are proud to currently have two such artists. The participation of Charles McPherson and Gilbert Castellanos, as Resident Composers, and the presentation of live musicians at our Ritmos Latinos and Jazz/Dance program is sponsored by a generous gift by Joann Clark.

Charles McPherson

Charles McPherson

Charles McPherson was born in Joplin, Missouri and moved to Detroit at age nine. After growing up in Detroit, he studied with the renowned pianist Barry Harris and started playing jazz professionally at age 19. He moved from Detroit to New York in 1959 and performed with Charles Mingus from 1960 to 1972. While performing with Mingus, he collaborated frequently with Harris, Lonnie Hillyer, and George Coleman.

Mr. McPherson has performed at concerts and festivals with his own variety of groups, consisting of quartets, quintets to full orchestras. Charles was featured at Lincoln Center showcasing his original compositions 15 years ago, and once again joined Wynton Marsalis and J@LC Orchestra in April, 2019 honoring his 80th Birthday where they arranged and performed 7 of Charles’ iconic original compositions.  Charles has toured the U.S., Europe, Japan, Africa and South America with his own group, as well as with jazz greats Barry Harris, Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton, Nat Adderly, Jay McShann, Phil Woods, Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, and others.

McPherson has recorded as a guest artist with Charlie Mingus, Barry Harris, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. He has recorded as a leader on Prestige, Fantasy, Mainstream, Discovery, Xanadu, Arabesque, Capri and several smaller labels in Europe and Japan.

Charles was the featured alto saxophonist in the Clint Eastwood film “Bird,” a biopic about Charlie Parker. Charles has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Don Redman Lifetime Achievement Award and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from California State University San Marcos. Charles performed this past April at the NEA Jazz Master’s 2019 performance during Stanley Crouch’s tribute.  Widely recognized as a prolific composer, Charles is now Resident Composer for the San Diego Ballet, where he has written three original suites for chamber music and jazz combos.  In the summer of 2019, Dr. Donnie Norton will compile the entire book of Charles’ compositions for publication.   

McPherson remains a strong, viable force on the jazz scene today. Throughout his six decades of being an integral performer of the music, Charles has not merely remained true to his Be Bop origins, but has expanded on them. Stanley Crouch says in his New York Times article on Charles, “he is a singular voice who has never sacrificed the fluidity of his melody making and is held in high esteem by musicians both long seasoned and young.” Charles is a frequent guest at universities all over the world and also teaches privately.  Many of his former students have gone on to have careers of their own in jazz, and have earned National Jazz Student Awards. Charles had the honor of being the subject of then PhD candidate Dr. Donnie Norton’s Doctoral Dissertation: “The Jazz Saxophone Style of Charles McPherson: An Analysis through Biographical Examination and Solo Transcription.”

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Gilbert Castellanos

Nationally renowned musician, educator and composer based in San Diego, is one of the hottest jazz trumpeters in the United States today. He holds the distinction of American Master from the internationally acclaimed Down Beat Magazine. A San Diego Music Awards Best Artist of the Year, he has also been awarded Best Jazz Artist six times. Adept in straight-ahead, as well as Latin and Afro Cuban jazz, Castellanos has become a leading figure of the vibrant, diverse and flourishing jazz scene here in Southern California.

Castellanos is the Artistic Curator of both of the San Diego Symphony’s highly successful jazz series – Jazz at The Jacobs and Bayside Summer Nights – which have featured some of today’s brightest stars including Gregory Porter, Chucho Valdes, Dianne Reeves, Cecile McLorin Salvant, and more. This year, he began a new collaboration with the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), Portraits In Jazz, a concert series that introduces the American art form to SDMA’s global members and supporters.

The Young Lions Jazz Conservatory (YLJC) launched in 2017, was founded by Castellanos who serves as Artistic Director and is the faculty’s primary educator; mentoring the next generation of jazz is one of his greatest passions. In 2014, he launched the precursor to the YLJC, the Young Lions Series at Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art, to highlight up-and-coming middle and high school jazz musicians; over 250 have been featured to date. His popular Wednesday Jazz Jam at Panama 66 is the longest running jam in the city.

Castellanos has worked with world-renowned artists Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Hayden, Horace Silver, Oscar Hernandez, Poncho Sanchez, Charles McPherson, Diana Krall, Willie Nelson, Michael Buble, and Natalie Cole, to name a few.

Castellanos is committed to “keeping jazz alive” by creating new and innovative ways to raise awareness of the American art form, expanding the San Diego jazz scene and cultivating new audiences and investing in young musicians to ensure the future of jazz.

“[Castellanos] plays with élan, evincing a more individual, ever-large sound offering hard swinging, often ear-grabbing solos…[proving] that music with deep roots in jazz’s glorious ’50s and ’60s can sound completely contemporary today.” – LA Times

“Gilbert Castellanos was a true gem to have on my new CD ”The Art of Latin Jazz.”  In my opinion, he is one of the top trumpet players on the scene today. His playing was brilliant, and he added just the spark that took the music to another level.” – Oscar Hernandez, Grammy Award-winning pianist, composer and band leader of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

Commissioned Scores

Collaboration with local artists is a large part of Artistic Director Javier Velasco’s vision for the San Diego Ballet. No where is that more evident than in its commitment to the creation of new work. By commissioning musical scores from internationally acclaimed musical figures (who also call San Diego their home), the San Diego Ballet hopes to not just enrich our local arts scene, but to make our local community aware of the excellence and artist that we can call our own.

Among the more than 100 pieces that have been choreographed by Velasco, here is a list of those commissioned pieces, including the year they were first presented.

1995Liana’s SongDavid Burge
199624 PreludesDavid Burge
1996Luna LuneraDavid Burge
1998LoteriaDavid Burge
1998Moku (Island)David Burge
1998Dances of Love and LaughterDavid Burge
2001KaleidoscopeDavid Burge
20011,000 Paper CranesDavid Burge
2002When Love PrevailsDavid Burge
2003DibujosDavid Burge
2003Rainbows: A Ragtime BalletDavid Burge
2004ReminiscenceDavid Burge
2016Sweet Synergy SuiteCharles McPherson
2017AudazGilbert Castellanos
2017Reflection and HopeCharles McPherson
2018Por Los MuertosGilbert Castellanos
2018CityscapesKamau Kenyatta
2019Song of SongsCharles McPherson

Due to the high volume of requests, the San Diego Ballet does not accept unsolicited proposals for future ballets or musical scores.