IAJSD Students' Awards

Zion Dyson – Featured Artist in the San Diego Union Tribune

Zion Dyson, vocalist in Gilbert Castellano’s 9am ensemble, was featured on Sunday, March 26 in the San Diego Union Tribune Arts and Entertainment section.  George Varga’s article contains quotes from Zion, Gilbert, Dan Atkinson (who runs the UCSD Jazz Camp) and Mark Dresser (UCSD Jazz Faculty).  We congratulate Zion on being selected and for shining a light on the youth jazz scene here in San Diego.

Check out the full article:

IAJSD Students “Tore it Up” at Point Loma Nazarene College Jazz Fest!

Rob Thorsen’s 9am and 11am ensembles performed at Point Loma Nazarene College Jazz Fest this Saturday March 25.  Both groups received high marks from the judges.  Rob commented, “I am very proud of my two ensembles. Both groups tore it up! My ensemble l (9am) got a superior rating and my ensemble ll (11am) got an excellent rating. Great job Julian Roel, Jarien Jamanila, Jiakai Chang, Emma Christie Foster, Edward Gabrielyn, Angelica Pruitt, Eric Wesling, Carmen Murray, Nick Caldwell, Veena Dorazio, Dharma Dorazio, Benny Simon and Bryce Jacobs!  Special thanks to judges Christopher Hollyday and Willie Murillo and festival director John Dally.”

Angelica Pruitt, bass player in Rob’s 9am ensemble, received an “Outstanding Soloist” award and a scholarship to attend Parker Jazz Summer Workshop!

Jason Picker performed with his school combo, Canyon Crest Academy, but we know him better as Gilbert’s 9am pianist.  Jason also received “Outstanding Soloist” with a scholarship to attend UCSD Jazz Camp!

Congratulations, students!  We couldn’t be more proud. And, thank you, Rob, for giving these kids a wonderful performance opportunity and coaching them to success!

Congratulations to IAJSD Artistic Director Gilbert Castellanos for winning Best Jazz at the San Diego Music Awards!

On Tuesday, March 21, Gilbert and four IAJSD students headed to the San Diego Music Awards at The House of Blues in Downtown San Diego.  Gilbert was nominated for Best Jazz in San Diego which he has won several times in the past.  Gilbert was also offered a slot to perform at the awards show.  The show organizers asked him to perform with his band.  Gilbert could have chosen from any of the top Jazz musicians in the city to be in “his band”, but guess who he wanted to perform with him that night?  He chose four Young Lions, all students of the International Academy of Jazz, John Murray, bass, Jason Picker, piano, Johnny Steele, drums, and Zion Dyson, vocals.  The festival organizers doubted his decision.  The Awards show features some of the top musicians in the city, and Gilbert wanted to perform with kids???  Gilbert stuck by his decision.  When Gilbert and his band of teenagers arrived at the awards show the organizers asked dubiously if “the kids” were prepared.  Gil just smiled.

Two amazing bands went on before our students performed and we parents in the audience weren’t sure if our kids were up for the challenge.  Finally, Gil and the Young Lions took the stage.  Our IAJSD students looked very small and a little bit frightened.  However, once they started playing they had the crowd riveted!  They were spectacular and absolutely rose to the occasion.  At the end of their short set they received the only standing ovation of the night with sustained applause.  Many people later said Gil and the Young Lions stole the night.

Right after the performance Gilbert was announced as the winner of Best Jazz in San Diego.  We are so grateful that he chose to share his night with his Young Lions.

Please read George Varga’s Union Tribune article on The San Diego Music Awards which mentions the kids:

Kamau Kenyatta receives 2nd GRAMMY!

Congratulations to Kamau Kenyatta on his 2nd GRAMMY Award!  Kamau received the award for his work as producer and arranger of Gregory Porter’s album “Take Me to the Alley.”  This album won in the category “Best Vocal Jazz Album.”  Kamau’s first GRAMMY was also on a collaboration with Gregory Porter – “Liquid Spirit” in 2014.

Kamau teaches two ensembles at IAJSD.  He is beloved by his students for his depth of knowledge of music and his desire for artistic authenticity.  Kamau also teaches at UCSD where he was honored with the prestigious Barbara J. and Paul D. Saltman Distinguished Teaching Award.  He is an incredible asset to our faculty.  We are blessed to have him on board!

For more information take a look at the San Diego Reader article by our own Board Member Robert Bush:


Johnny Steele Receives YoungArts Scholarship!

For the second year in a row Johnny Steele has been selected for a Young Arts scholarship.  Johnny is 16 and plays in Gilbert Castellanos’ 9am combo.  Johnny was one of 5 percussionists selected nationwide to receive an award from Young Arts and stands to win $10,000 and a chance to study with mentors in Miami, New York or L.A.  His top choice is to study with Wynton Marsalis in New York.

Johnny is making his mark on the SD Jazz Scene.  He is often asked to play in Gilbert’s house band for the Wednesday Night Jam Sessions.  He was recently featured in the SD Reader in an article written by IAJSD Board Member Robert Bush called “Drums of Steele”:

Johnny will graduate from SCPA this year, just after his 17th birthday, and plans to head off to college to continue his Jazz education.  He is already getting some great news from some of the top Jazz schools in the U.S.  He was accepted to The Berklee School of Music with a nice scholarship.  He also submitted pre-screening audition recordings to several other schools.  If the college likes the pre-screening recording they invite the applicant in for a live audition.  So far Johnny has passed the pre-screening at Manhattan School of Music, University of Miami Frost School of Music and USC Thornton School of Music. He will be visiting each college in January and February to interview and audition live.  He is still waiting to hear from Juilliard and The New School, both in New York, and UCLA.

Gilbert, Johnny’s combo leader for the past two years,  knows the director of the Jazz program at the Frost School of Music in Miami and was able to arrange a VIP tour for Johnny last fall.  Johnny really liked what he saw and was even able to sit in on a few classes.  Gilbert also wrote a letter of recommendation for Johnny to help him with the application process.  Gilbert is a firm believer in studying music at the college level, he himself has a BA from Berklee College and his master’s from Cal Arts, and has offered to help IAJSD students get into the music college of their choice.

We congratulate Johnny on his tremendous accomplishments so far and are excited to see where he goes from here!  Good luck on those live auditions at all those incredible schools!

Gilbert Receives Music Educator of the Year from San Diego Youth Symphony!

On Sunday, November 20, the San Diego Youth Symphony held its 21st Annual Celebration of Music Education Concerts.  At the 6 pm concert, at The California Center for the Arts, Escondido, our own IAJSD Artistic Director Gilbert Castellanos was awarded the 2016 Profiles in Music Education Award presented by Jeff Edmons, Music Director of the San Diego Youth Symphony.  IAJSD students and their families were welcome to attend the concert for free and we were overwhelmed with joy to see Gilbert, our hero, honored in front of the large crowd. Gilbert was chosen based on the work he has done with IAJSD and also his Young Lion’s series.

Gilbert receives award

Here is a quote from Gilbert from the program – “Raising up the next generation of jazz is really where my passion and heart and soul is. When I was starting out, someone gave me a chance to get on stage and took the time to invest some of their knowledge and experience in me. It’s a big part of my success today, and I’m grateful. Today, I’m giving back, and watching these young adults blossom into amazing musicians is an honor and a gift!”

We were then treated to a concert performed by five different level ensembles from the San Diego Youth Symphony. These young classical musicians are amazing and it was such a great opportunity for our jazz kids to get a taste of another genre.

Congratulations, Gilbert!  We’re so glad that the community recognizes what we already knew – that you are one of the best teachers ever. IAJSD is so lucky to have you on board!

img_6251 Gilbert and Students

Gilbert Castellanos Honored by SD Youth Symphony!

21st Celebration of Music Education – Evening Concert
Nov 20, 6:00 pm
CA Center for the Arts, Escondido

The San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory presents their 21st Celebration of Music Education Concerts. Two special concerts to honor the dedicated music educators in our region and celebrate the importance of music education in the lives of our youth and the entire community.  Our own Artistic Director Gilbert Castellanos will be one of the two honorees!

At the 6pm concert you will be treated to performances by all levels of the San Diego Youth Symphony.

The 6pm concert honors local virtuoso trumpet player and Artistic Director of the International Academy of Jazz San Diego, Gilbert Castellanos. Recognized as a new American master by Downbeat magazine, Mr. Castellanos has established himself as one of the nation’s most inventive improvisers as a member of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Anthony Wilson Nonet, Charles McPherson Quintet, Willie Jones III Quintet, and as leader of his own groups. A passionate advocate of formal jazz education, he regularly conducts high school workshops and is a firm believer in the type of “real world” education that young jazz musicians require to hone their craft.

Tickets to the concert, at the CA Center for the Arts Escondido, are $25 for general public, but all IAJSD students, parents, faculty and board members can attend for free. Please email us if you would like to attend!

Tickets available at

Eric Wesling on Guitar Eric Wesling Receives $30K Scholarship to Berklee!

Eric Wesling is in his second year with IAJSD playing guitar. He just started his senior year at Mission Bay High School but he already has a pretty good idea where he will be going to college. This summer Eric was awarded a $30,000 per year scholarship and the prestigious Berklee College of Music!

Last August Eric attended The Berklee Guitar Sessions, a one week guitar intensive program at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He stayed in the dorms and took classes. I asked him about the curriculum and he told me, “There were three classes each day, the first one being the ensemble class, jazz styles, and then fretboard harmony, with different clinics and concerts in between. The instructors there have very new, creative ideas that they shared with us, and it gave me a whole new understanding of the guitar. I also learned about the guitar itself, like the measurements and the types of wood they use. They had the head of Godin guitars do a clinic all about the materials used to make guitars and how different types of wood create different vibrations.”

I asked him if IAJSD helped to prepare him for this program. “IAJ definitely helped me prepare for Berklee. Berklee really looks for musicians are not just talented, but that can read well and have a good ear. I never really focused on these things until I started playing in IAJ. Gilbert Castellanos had us playing transcriptions, reading new music, and identifying chord qualities, which helped my playing immensely. These concepts helped me understand what my instructors were showing me and they saw that I knew what I was doing.”

Apparently one Berklee instructor in particular saw that Eric knew what he was doing. Tim Miller spotted Eric’s talent and ability and recommended him for a scholarship to attend Berklee as a college student. I asked Eric about the scholarship. “I was awarded a $30,000 scholarship for a four year degree. The head of the guitar sessions, Kim Purlak, pulled me aside during the sound check for the final performance, and handed me the certificate. It covers tuition for two semesters, but has the possibility of being renewed if I make decent academic progress.” I am very confident that Eric will excel in this program, given his track record at IAJSD.

Congratulations, Eric, on this wonderful accomplishment! We wish you every success completing your senior year of high school and wish you luck as a college student at Berklee or whever you decide to go.