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Summer Music: Bill Caballero's Latin Jazz Jam Is Built To Last

Trumpet player Bill Caballero is pictured in a still from a performance video.
Garage Mahal Sessions
Trumpet player Bill Caballero is pictured in a still from a performance video.

A weekly Latin jazz jam in Barrio Logan is a welcoming space for beginners and pros alike, with trumpeter Bill Caballero at its heart for nearly 18 years.

In our next installment of the 2021 KPBS Summer Music Series: A weekly Latin jazz jam in Barrio Logan is a welcoming space for beginners and pros alike, with trumpeter Bill Caballero at its heart for nearly 18 years.

In our next installment of the 2021 KPBS Summer Music Series, we welcome a musician who’s been making Barrio Logan move to the music for more than 17 years.

Summer Music Series: Bill Caballero

Hosted by trumpet player Bill Caballero, the weekly Latin Jazz Jam brings people from all over San Diego together to enjoy live music. Every performance is unique, with an endless roster of musicians both seasoned and beginners alike, performing together on the same stage.

And it’s with this welcoming approach that Bill Caballero created a space for the community that is built to last — a place for people of all ages to gather in Barrio Logan and experience the joy of music.

"Everybody's just happy at the jam. They can expect to see some seasoned musicians, and then they're very supportive of the not-so-seasoned musicians. Every jam's different. I never know what's going to happen or how it's going to be, but in the end, it's always pretty cool," Callabero said.

VIDEO: 'La Bruja' by Quinteto Caballero

"It began with Brent Beltran, a good friend of mine, hounding me for a year to start it," Callabero said. "I didn't want to do it because jam sessions have a tendency to have a short shelf life. People get all excited and then three weeks later, if it's not packed, they close it down. And I knew that if I did it, I was going to be committed to it because I didn't want to quit."

He was finally talked into it, and nearly eighteen years later, he's still at it.

"I'm still doing it, just out of stubbornness," Callabero joked.

Players of all levels

"My jam is inclusive, not exclusive. At my jam I feel that it's one place where everybody is equal," Callabero said. "Like my teacher in college told me, everybody's got their voice. I just enjoy it."

Callabero said that one of the plus-sides to working with beginners is watching them grow. Some of the younger players will come back later — like Omar Lopez of the Whalers.

And making a performance fun and enjoyable for the audience is also important to Callabero. It all works out on stage because Caballero's backing band is full of veteran performers.

"They know what they're doing, so they provide support to the ones that don't know what they're doing so much. My guys take care of it. They make sure the song goes through," Caballero said.

'The tape don't lie'

Quintento Caballero is Caballero's quintet, which features his trumpet and flugelhorn at the helm, surrounded by lively performers like Ignacio Arrango on guitar, Omar Lopez on bass, Giancarlo Anderson on timbale and David Castaneda on congas.

Callabero makes a living with music, but focuses on performing, not recording music.

"Not a great living, but I'm doing what I want to do, and it seems that when you start getting into the business end of it, it kind of loses its fun," he said.

"Funky River" was recorded by San Diego band Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, who won a recent San Diego Music Award.

"If at all possible, like when I used to play at Border X and various other places, I like the band's proximity to be as close to the people as possible. There's energy that goes back and forth," Callabero said. "When you're recording, I really respect the people that record because you're in an empty room and you're trying to recreate what you do live, in an empty room."

Session life

Callabero has also played as a session musician when big acts come through town. Including in the horn section for the Temptations, Natalie Cole, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and more.

He also worked with the San Diego Opera on their program "Words and Music," bringing together young musicians from different neighborhoods.

"I just get a kick out of the kids. They're really good," he said.

VIDEO: 'Wachi Wada' by Quinteto Caballero

"Wachi Wada" is a standard in a subset of Latin Jazz, or what Caballero has taken to calling "homie jazz," which mixes oldies and Chicano-style music with Latin Jazz.

"'[Wachi Wada]' has some nice lines, and it only has one chord. So God, anybody can play on that song."

And it's that spirit that gets performers of all levels into a lasting local jazz tradition. Something approachable, without pretense, but still entertaining and ultimately cool.

Bill Caballero's Latin Jazz Jam takes place every Thursday from 7-10 p.m. at Hott Mess Woodfired Pizza in Barrio Logan in the Thorn Street Brewery complex.

VIDEO: 'Harvest Moon' by Quinteto Caballero

Corrected: September 30, 2021 at 8:47 AM PDT
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the San Diego Opera project "Words and Music."