Congratulations 2020 Graduates


Zane Adlam – Guitar

Guitarist Zane Adlam will be graduating from Canyon Crest Academy and studying Astronomy and Astrophysics at Lehigh University starting in the fall. As an aspiring musician for much of his life, Zane had immersed himself in his beloved rock music for most of his formative musical years; however, as time passed and he became increasingly interested in honing his technical prowess, it was only a matter of time before he discovered jazz. Now, Zane only wishes he had joined the conservatory earlier, as he attributes virtually all of his recent growth, both as a player and songwriter, to his newfound love for and exploration of jazz. Zane expresses his most sincere gratitude to YLJC and to Gilbert Castellanos for the incredible opportunities he has had to play, learn, and grow under and alongside such amazing musicians.

Sawyer Figueroa – Sax

Thanks to the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory, Sawyer will never give up his desire to play jazz. While he will be attending UCSD as a Cognitive Science major, he still plans to find time to improve his improvisational skills no matter the circumstances. He’d like to thank Young Lions and especially Gilbert Castellanos for helping him make wonderful connections which he hopes to maintain for the rest of his life.

Sergio Ibanez – Trombone

I will be attending San Diego State University in the fall to study music education. Music to me is a part of daily life, just as you brush your teeth or wash your face. The Young Lions Jazz Conservatory was also a part of that cycle. In order to respect the music and other musicians the jazz conservatory would always push me to be better, to do better. I am grateful to have been able to play with an amazing group of musicians that was cultivated and a part of the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory.

Christian Longoria – Clarinet

Christian Longoria will be graduating from Vista Murrieta High School where he plays clarinet in wind ensembles and saxophone in jazz ensembles. He currently play in the Blue Train Ensemble at the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory. Christian will be attending Riverside City College and he will be double majoring in Jazz Studies and Music Education. He has played in district honor bands and the Riverside City College Ellington Honor Band. Through the conservatory he has had the honor of playing numerous times at Panama 66 as well as at the San Diego Symphony Hall. Christian is extremely grateful for the opportunities Young Lions has provided him and for the instruction given by Gilbert Castellanos. He grew as a musician by being surrounded by such a skillful group of students and from being pushed by my mentors and peers and he is very thankful to be a part of something so great.


Jorge Mabarak – Bass

After graduation I plan on attending Grossmont College and continue playing bass in the Afro Cuban jazz band lead by Derek Cannon who I met out of my high school jazz band. Young Lions took what I knew and pushed me further into the world of jazz, introducing me to the styles of jazz and musicians that influenced them, and gave me the opportunity to not only learn about jazz, but truly experience and practice being in professional settings with other musicians to come together and make music. Thanks to the opportunities given to me, I’ve met some incredible musicians that I hope to continue playing with in the future and could not be more grateful for the opportunities that were given to me by Gilbert and the rest of the conservatory.

Christopher Martinez – Bass

This Fall I will be attending UCSD as an ICAM (Interdisciplinary Computing and Arts Major) student. At UCSD I will be taking music courses and will continue to study Jazz outside of school. Young Lions has been one of my favorite parts of my high school experience. The skills learned can be applied to many aspects of life. Young Lions community has been my second musical family.

Catie Murphy – Drums

I have committed to UCSD to pursue a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Music. At first, I was hesitant about staying so close to home: but this quickly subsided with the realization that I could remain part of the amazing San Diego jazz scene. Though it’s only been three years that I have played as part of YLJC, I can’t imagine what my life would be without it. It has defined my taste in music, my self-image, my worldview, my practice habits, my best friends, and my fondest high-school memories. I can’t put into words how much the conservatory means to me; I just know that the YLJC family will always be in my heart and jazz will always be in my life.


Carmen Murray – Drums

Carmen Murray, drummer in Gilbert Castellanos’ “New Soil” Ensemble, will be graduating from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, and pursuing a degree in Jazz Studies at NYU on a full-tuition merit scholarship. Carmen is a two-year member of the NextGen Women in Jazz Combo, a Vail Jazz Workshop Nominee, 2019 Essentially Ellington participant, has attended Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Summer Jazz Academy, and placed twice at the NextGen Jazz Festival along with her YLJC ensemble. Having been a founding member of the conservatory, Carmen has enjoyed watching the organization grow, and will forever be grateful for the musical opportunities, as well as support and guidance, that she’s received. She believes that the friendships and community she’s built while in the program will be long-lasting, and hopes to help YLJC continue to serve the community in the future.

Alvin Paige – Sax

Hi my name is Alvin Paige, I’ve been a part of the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory since it started and have been given so many opportunities through the program. This coming fall I will be attending MSU as a jazz saxophone major. I am very excited to embark on this journey, and I’d like to thank all of the people that have helped with my development as a musician and person. Thank you to: Marcia Forman, Ms. Terry, Daniel Jackson, Gilbert Castellanos, Charles McPherson, and most importantly my mom. Without them I don’t know where I would be.


Julia Picker – Voice

I joined the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory in the fall of my Sophomore year of high school with virtually no experience in jazz. However, with the support and guidance of the conservatory, I have not only become a better vocalist and improviser, but also a stronger leader and more well rounded musician. Some of my favorite memories of my high school years are performing at Panama 66, the Embarcadero, and Symphony Hall with my Young Lions combos and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share these experiences with everyone in the conservatory. Next year, I will be attending Dartmouth College, where I plan to major in Molecular/Cellular Biology and minor in Jazz Performance.


Piatt Pund – Violin

I will be attending school in Manhattan next year to study Music and Musical Theater. My time at Young Lions taught me quite a bit about music and who I am as a performer. I look towards my future with an eagerness and I am really excited to start my career in a music capital of the world. With all that I’ve learned from collaboration to leadership, I am completely positive that one day you will see me perform either on a Broadway stage or on tour with my own group. Thank you to all who have guided me over the past years, and a very special thanks to Gilbert Castellanos for believing that a fiddler could learn to hold his own playing bebop.

Christian Rodriguez – Guitar

After Graduating, I’m planning to go to Grossmont College to do Music Studies and Mesa City College to do Computer Science and then go to SDSU to finish my college degree. I’m planning to continue music for the rest of my life and being in the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory has opened many doors for me. I’ve met and played with amazing musicians and Young Lions gave me the opportunity to learn more on what jazz has to offer. Thanks to Ian Buss and Gilbert Castellanos for teaching me and pushing me to become a better musician.

Paolo Roque – Piano

Being in the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory has given me the means to not only improve as a musician, but also as an individual. As I started studying jazz in high school, joining the conservatory broadened my knowledge on the vastness and complexities of the music style. Getting to learn alongside musicians my age, be consistently challenged to improve, and develop in communication, leadership, and professionalism through numerous performance opportunities has truly been a blessing. I am extremely thankful to Gilbert and all of the YLJC instructors for the wonderful experiences and memories these past two years. After graduating from Mission Bay High School, I will be attending Point Loma Nazarene University to major in Nursing while continuing to study jazz in the ensembles there.

Caleb Sheffield – Drums

After graduating high school, I plan on attending California Baptist University on a music scholarship. I hope to participate in many ensembles at Cal Bap including Jazz Band, Concert band and drumline. I plan on majoring in aviation while possibly minoring in music. Young Lions has not only given me an opportunity to play jazz but has pushed me to a new level I couldn’t have achieved on my own. I am grateful for Gilbert and all the staff that have had an impact on my musical progression.

Sam Smylie – Piano

I will be heading off to Santa Monica College where I intend on getting both an associates degree in music and transfer to USC Thornton school of music to continue my jazz education, hopefully one day gigging and performing in Southern California. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to have learned under the instruction of Rob Thorsen. Rob believed in my ability to be a jazz musician and continuously worked past the clock to help me progress. Rob has taught me what it means to be both a phenomenal jazz musican and a compassionate human being. I am very grateful to have played with some wonderful students in the Young Lions program and am extremely excited to play with them once again as we all continue to grow as musicians. Im going to miss driving down to Point Loma every week, it was without a doubt the highlight of my high school career.

Nicholas Stoneking – Sax 

My name is Nicholas Stoneking and I am a Senior at Patrick Henry High School.  I will be attending San Diego State this fall and majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Music.  I have been playing music almost all my life. I began on piano around 12 years ago and recently started playing saxophone again. I am so grateful to Young Lions for giving me an amazing opportunity to explore Jazz, as that was not available at my high school. On top of that, I was able to meet some really amazing musicians, instructors and participants. I have had a lot of fun in this program and only wish that I would have joined it sooner. I owe most of my excitement to the instructors though.  Mr. Albarez and Mr. Castellanos have done so much to help me in this program and I feel like they make that kind of effort with anyone who is wants to learn.

Sophia Wagner – Voice

I will be attending Loyola Marymount University as a mathematics major in the fall. This was my first year in Young Lions and I plan on continuing to play jazz in any way I can throughout college. Young Lions gave me the opportunity to meet and play with many talented individuals and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned and experienced in my first year in this program.

Kenneth Zayas – Sax

Saxophonist Kenneth Zayas will be graduating from San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and plans on pursuing a degree in Global Jazz Studies at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. YLJC has truly inspired him and has given him the opportunity to build many lasting relationships from the great community he’s been a part of. He is extremely grateful for the amazing mentorship and musical opportunities Gilbert Castellanos has provided him. He’s excited to continue onto the next chapter of his musical journey and hopes to stay involved with this program as it continues to grow. 

Joshua Zingale – Piano

Spending time with my band members and instructors has taught me what it means for one to be passionate about something. No matter the realm, whether it is music, church, family, or something else, I know to make time for what matters to me. As I pursue a degree in computer science at SDSU, as I enter the workforce, and as family and friends come and go, music will always be a pillar of my life on which I can fall back. Young Lions is an excellent program that attracts motivated musicians. I will recommend.

Congratulations 2019 Graduates

We are happy to report that ten of our seniors intend to go on to study jazz music at the college level. We are so proud of this dedicated, accomplished, and hardworking group of kids! We will miss you and can’t wait to see where you go from here!

Taylor Bailey, Saxophone

“I will be attending California State University Northridge to study jazz in the fall. Without Young Lions, I never would have gotten this far. I’ve only been playing jazz for 2 years and I have progressed so much already. I have had so many opportunities to perform, and I have gained so many wonderful and supportive friends. I also learned how to be responsible, a leader, and how to communicate efficiently all thanks to everyone at the conservatory. I can’t express how thankful I am to have been able to be a part of this amazing program.”

Wesley Biasi, Drums

“After graduation I will be attending Oberlin College and Conservatory majoring in Jazz Performance. Jazz has been a part of my life since joining my elementary school program in the 5th grade. In 2015, I had the honor of being selected to play drums in the California All-State Junior High School Jazz Band. My jazz studies continued in high school while attending Canyon Crest Academy. Gilbert Castellanos and the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory have provided leadership and performance opportunities that helped build confidence, expand my abilities, and give direction in my life. My heartfelt gratitude to Gilbert, Rob and all the instructors at YLJC for their support, tutelage, and friendship.”

Paul Chairez, Guitar and Vocals

“Throughout the year I’ve had the great privilege and immense honor to play with other students who have the same passion for music as I, and it’s changed my life in unimaginable ways. The community of musicians here is tight nit, and regardless of my skill, I have always felt included as a part of the music community. My involvement with Young Lions provided a mass boost in inspiration for me and I’ve had to step up my musicianship by a lot to be able to be at the level of my younger peers. It pushed me in the direction of improvement and I always look back at what I have achieved and keep learning from my past experiences. This conservatory has prepared me for playing with some of the best up and coming musicians of San Diego, who not only surpass most adults in dedication but caliber of playing. It’s really taught me that the biggest competitor in this whole world is me, and it’s what has kept me going along this path, just knowing that to beat myself, I have to step higher every day. In the hopes to continue pursuing music, I had applied to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was accepted and I am deferring my enrollment so I have a chance to practice more and improve my chances of getting bigger scholarships. However the grind to be the best version of myself continues and will never stop.”

Adrian Chang, Double Bass

Double bassist Adrian Chang will graduate from Pacific Ridge School and attend Brown University to study Engineering in the fall. He initially started playing the double bass in classical ensembles at Aviara Oaks Middle and discovered jazz through the jazz ensembles at Pacific Ridge. As a senior and first year at Young Lions, Adrian wishes he had discovered Young Lions earlier in his musical career in high school. His time with the Young Lions conservatory has given him wonderful opportunities to play and experience jazz, and has solidified a much deeper appreciation for the art. Adrian would like to thank Gilbert Castellanos for giving him such a wonderful experience.   

Tiger Diep, Saxophone

Tiger Diep, an 18-year-old saxophonist in Gilbert Castellanos’ “New Soil Ensemble,” will be graduating from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and attending New York University on a full tuition Steinhardt merit scholarship to pursue a degree in Jazz Studies. Tiger was named a 2019 YoungArts Winner, a Vail Jazz Workshop Nominee, Spotlight Competition Semi-Finalist, California Jazz Conservatory Full Tuition Scholarship Winner, 2019 Essentially Ellington Outstanding Alto Saxophonist, and a participant in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Summer Jazz Academy. He is extremely grateful to have learned a tremendous amount under the tutelage of Gilbert Castellanos and Rob Thorsen while in YLJC, forming connections with musicians and peers that share the same passion for the music as he does. He hopes to stay involved in the program in the future.

Zion Dyson, Vocals

Zion Dyson, the vocalist in the “New Soil Ensemble,” has just graduated from The Bishop’s School. She started singing jazz at age 13, and for the past 5 years she has studied jazz performance, theory, composition, and history under Gilbert and Lorraine Castellanos. Zion has competed in the Next Generation Jazz Festival for the past four years and is excited to tour internationally as the vocalist in the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra later this year. In 2019, she won first place in the High School Vocal Soloist Category at NGJF, and her combo from Young Lions Jazz Conservatory, directed by Gilbert Castellanos, placed 3rd. She has performed at many venues around San Diego, including San Diego Symphony’s Jazz @ the Jacobs and Bayside Summer Nights, the Athenaeum’s La Jolla and TSRI locations, and many times as the featured performer in the Young Lions Series at Panama 66. Zion has performed with several jazz legends including Sheila Jordan, Mike Woffard, Holly Hofmann, and Gilbert Castellanos.  She received merit-based scholarships to UCSD Jazz Camp and Berklee College of Music Five-Week Summer Program (2016 and 2017). In 2018, she studied at New England Conservatory’s Jazz Lab under the guidance of Michael Mayo. She received a merit scholarship to attend New England Conservatory where she will study Jazz Vocal Performance starting in the fall of 2019. Young Lions Jazz Conservatory has helped form Zion’s musical identity through giving her many chances to perform, building her ensemble leadership skills, and providing opportunities to compose original music. She hopes the friendships and musical partnerships she’s made here will last many years and that one day she might return as an instructor in the program.

Sam Kredich, Trumpet

“I am an 18 year old trumpet player and will be attending UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music for Global Jazz Studies. Young Lions had a large impact on my choice of Major and my experiences with Gilbert and the rest of the faculty have been life changing.”

Max May, Saxophone

Max May plays tenor saxophone in Gilbert Castellanos’ Unity Ensemble. Playing with the Young Lions was the first time Max has had the opportunity to play jazz regularly, and it has been an incredible experience. Being exposed to the jazz scene for the first time has changed his entire attitude towards music, and he has learned more than he thought was possible in one year. Young Lions has been a very positive part of his senior year and he wishes has had joined sooner. Max graduates from La Jolla High in June and has received a Presidential Scholarship to attend Tulane University, where he plans to double major in jazz studies and (probably) psychology.

Mack Milne, Bass

After graduating from Canyon Crest Academy, Mack Milne will be attending Berklee College of Music on a Merit Scholarship. He was selected for the First Year Abroad program in Valencia, Spain where he is enrolled in the Bachelor of Music Performance program. Young Lions has given him the tools and experience to pursue the art form of Jazz as a career. Many thanks to Gilbert Castellanos, Ian Buss and Rob Thorsen.

Brandon Ortega, Guitar and Trumpet

Brandon Ortega is a graduating senior at Vista Murrieta High School where he plays guitar and trumpet in the jazz band and combo. He has played with various college jazz bands including Riverside Community College and California State University, Fullerton. He was recently chosen for the Ellington Honor Band at Riverside Community College. Brandon was accepted into the Jazz Studies program at the University of North Texas where he will begin studying in August.  He has enjoyed his time with Young Lions and appreciates the education provided by Gil and Rob who have helped him further his jazz education.

Jorge Perez-Vallejo, Guitar

“After I graduate and move on from Young Lions, I plan on going to Job Corps in Utah, to pursue automotive tech, for 18 months. 

I picked up a guitar at 6 years old and never put it down. Metal has always been my passion, and I had rarely listened to Jazz. Then one day, I was invited to watch my cousin Alvin Paige perform. I was listening intently to the rhythm and eventually started bobbing and weaving and really appreciated the sound of Jazz. I grew up playing Heavy Metal music, and later learned that Metal has some roots in Jazz. Such as scales, and odd time sigs. It was exciting. I then, inquired about how I could get into Young Lions. I was able to get a scholarship- Thank you Sundiata Kata for helping me get into this wonderful program and introducing me to Jazz. Also, thank you Rob Thorsen for giving me great advice, lessons, and feedback. I’d also like to thank all of the band members for accepting me and treating me like family.”

Emiliano Garcia, Drums

“Next year I plan on attending Grossmont College for two years obtaining my general education and hopefully transfer to Berklee College of Music where I will further my study of the drum set while at the same time expanding my career with my own music and someday becoming a famous artist. My first year of Young Lions was a good experience because it exposed me to a small taste of jazz, before that I was a mainly self taught “rock” drummer, and that was all. The next year I was hoping in making it in my top jazz ensemble at my school, unfortunately I did not make in and I was pretty depressed but I knew I had two choices, either I don’t care and not try my senior year or work my but off and take private lessons to prove myself as a musician. Coming to the realization that jazz drummers like Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey etc. were the ones who influenced my heroes, John Bonham, John Densmore etc. My choice was clear, if I wanted to be one of the greatest drummers in the world I had to study those who would inspire generations of drummers to come. I enrolled into Young Lions where I was put in a combo with Rob Thorsen who pushed me everyday, has given me great gig opportunities and has been a great mentor my senior year. Thanks to Ian Buss for my first year at Young Lions, Gilbert Castellanos for the offers and the jam sessions and Rob Thorsen for being an amazing teacher I would not be where I am today and jazz would have not touched me the way it has touched millions.”


Also graduating is Kristopher Donald (Bass).

Congratulations 2018 Graduates

You’ve inspired us and we will miss you. We wish you every success in the future and expect no less than great things from each of you. We send you off to the next chapter with all our love.

We want to thank our beloved flutist Grace Dessert for her sincere and heartfelt shout out to Young Lions given live at Panama 66. Grace will be studying at Duke University this fall. Watch the video below:

Grace Dessert, Flute

Next year I am off to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I plan to study Neuroscience and Music on a premed track.

Young Lions has taught me how to be confident in my playing and, under the guidance of Gilbert, I have grown tremendously as a musician. I am so grateful for my experience in Young Lions and for all the wonderful musicians and people I have had the pleasure of playing with.

Julian Roel, Alto Sax

I will be attending the New School in Manhattan, studying jazz and contemporary music. I have learned too much in Young Lions to describe in just a few sentences, but it introduced me to a wonderful community of musicians who are now my best friends and favorite people to play with. My life would be very different, and not quite so happy if I had not joined Young Lions.


Jason Picker, Piano

Jason Picker is a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego and is the pianist in Gilbert Castellanos’s 11am ensemble. He has been playing jazz since the 7th grade and has become an active member of the San Diego jazz community.  Jason was the pianist for the 2018 Jazz Band of America, a 2018 YoungArts Winner, a 2018 GRAMMY Band Finalist, and a University of North Carolina Kenan Scholar Finalist.  In August he will attend the USC Thornton School of Music on a full tuition Trustee Scholarship.   His primarily emphasis will be in jazz performance but he will also study jazz composition, film scoring and business administration.  The Young Lions Program has provided Jason with the amazing opportunity to connect with other young musicians in the San Diego area who share his passion for jazz. He truly appreciates the guidance and friendship of Gilbert Castellanos, the Young Lions staff, and his fellow Young Lions.  He looks forward to remaining an active part of this wonderful community.

Nicholas Abaunza, Drums

Nick is headed to Boston in the fall to major in Jazz Studies at New England Conservatory.

Young Lions, especially the gigs at Panama 66, have taught him leadership, professionalism and responsibility. It is one thing for musicians to play a set list that their instructor provides them. But Young Lions encourages its musicians to collaborate and develop their own set list for these gigs. To see how well the students accomplish this and turn out an amazing show is impressive and will serve them well in their adult lives whether they pursue music, business, or any other profession.

Jiakai Chang, Trombone

Jiakai Chang is honored and thankful to have been a part of Young Lions this year. He will be attending Northwestern University in the fall, though he is yet to decide his major. But whatever he decides, he knows he will definitely take his trombone with him. Thank you to Rob for being the best, kindest, most hipster teacher he’s ever had, and thank you to Young Lions for the opportunity to play with some of the best jazz musicians in town.

Tate McKay, Guitar

After graduation I will be studying jazz guitar at DePaul University.  The Young Lions Jazz Conservatory has provided me an educational opportunity that I could not have gotten anywhere else in San Diego.  Young Lions draws great musicians, so I had the opportunity to play with great student players.  The environment is encouraging and brings out the best in all of us.  The caliber of instructors is the best.  We also got great opportunities to gig, including playing the Copley Symphony Hall lobby for Jazz at the Jacobs events and the Monterrey Next Generation Jazz Festival.

Liam Keefe, Alto Sax

I will be going to college at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. At Eastman I will be majoring in jazz saxophone with a planned minor in classical composition. By participating in Young Lions I have increased my knowledge of the jazz form in improvisation and in group playing. Working and learning under mentors Rob Thorsen and Gilbert Castellanos has really transformed my playing, taking it to a new level.

Santino Arellano, Alto Sax

I have been playing alto saxophone since the 5th grade. I first decided that I wanted to play jazz when I met Gilbert Castellanos at a production of Federal Jazz Project.  I’m planning to go to City College and transfer to University College Cork for Archaeology. It was an honor to have the opportunities presented to me by the Conservatory, and I believe that the musical skills I have learned will impact me for the rest of my life.