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Congrats to the Class of 2021!

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Congrats YLJC Class of 2021

This year's graduating seniors are deserving of an especially hardy congratulations. They put in the hours. They juggled weird schedules. They did the work. And doing it all during a pandemic, well, they deserve some special recognition! We are so proud of them and all they’ve done. We are so thankful for their lovely, joyful, musical and artistic contributions in one of the most challenging times we've ever experienced. We are so proud of every one of these amazing kids!

To all of our students heading out to experience life's next chapter! We are so grateful that you chose to share a part of yourselves with Young Lions Jazz Conservatory. You are all outstanding individuals who brought energy, talent, and grit to this program every step of the way. The world will be a better place because of what you will bring to it. We can’t wait for you to come back and help teach a class, play at a jam, and share your stories.

We Are SO Proud Of You All!

Jack Becker - Drums

Jack Becker will be studying composition, production, and film scoring at Berklee College of Music 

About Jack...  "I joined Young Lions a little over two years ago with almost no prior jazz experience. Through the program I have grown so much as a person and musician; thankful for all the amazing guidance Gilbert has given me... I am extremely grateful for what the conservatory and Gilbert have given me, I would not be where I am without them." 

Ian Cunningham - Piano/Vocals

Ian Cunningham will be attending UC San Diego as an undeclared major

About Ian... Ian knows music and his love for jazz piano will always be a part of his life. Attending the Conservatory has always meant cooperation and communication with his fellow bandmates, and he will never forget the fun times and great learning experiences he got to be a part of through Young Lions! Ian is thankful for all the opportunities he received from Gilbert and everyone at the Conservatory.

Ian Feldman - Trumpet

Ian Feldman will be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a computer engineering major

About Ian... Ian has been part of the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory since he moved to the San Diego area in the 10th grade. Young Lions has been a formative musical opportunity which exposed him to incredible music and musicians outside of school marching band and wind ensemble. He would like to thank Gilbert Castellanos for his dedication and passion for this program. For Ian, it has been an unforgettable experience and an honor to play alongside the musicians at Young Lions. He is excited to make sure jazz remains a large part of his life as he goes to university and beyond. Keep jazz alive!

Owen Getz - Trombone

Owen Getz will be attending UCLA majoring in engineering and minoring in music

About Owen... Owen has been playing trombone for seven years and has participated in San Diego Honors Concert Band twice. His participation in Young Lions helped him to expand his horizons to jazz. Owen has been a member of this conservatory for two years, and his favorite part was participating in the Big Band. He would like to thank all his teachers for such a fun and rewarding time making music!

Connor Gilbert - Bass

Connor Gilbert will attend UCLA as a Global Jazz Studies major.

About Connor...

Connor Gilbert first started upright bass lessons with Rob Thorsen in 8th grade after his teacher asked him to switch from electric. Rob has been a trusted mentor ever since, and Connor joined one of his Young Lions ensembles later that year. In 9th grade he became a Mission Bay High Preservationist and joined the Mambo orchestra, in addition to his Young Lions ensemble, travelling with the Preservationists to New Orleans and Japan. Over the past three years, Connor has won top musicianship at MB High for each grade level, top accompanist at Music in the Parks, and the district-wide 2020 VAPA Spotlight Award for Artistic Achievement. This year, he is a member of two YLJC combos and three school ensembles, adding orchestra to his jazz studies. He has been grateful to perform at Copley Symphony Hall and to open with ensembles for Joey Alexander and Mongorama. 

EJ Hardy - Tenor Sax

EJ Hardy will attend Sonoma State University as a Jazz Studies major.

About EJ...

"I've been with Young Lions since the second semester in the 2019-2020 school year... Being a Young Lion really meant a lot to me as my high school didn't really have a jazz program. The conservatory was the only place I could properly learn jazz during the school year."

Randall Hild - Piano

Randall Hild will attend San Diego State University where he will major in Electrical Engineering and minor in Music.

About Randall: Randall began learning music in elementary school by learning piano when he was seven years old. Ever since then, piano has been his passion. He was introduced to jazz through his high school jazz band and joined Young Lions as a senior. Randall cites Young Lions as one of the greatest musical opportunities he has been a part of and has a lot of big plans for his future.

Chaz Keith - Drums

Chaz Keith will attend Grossmont college with plans to transfer to a four-year university to study Architecture

About Chaz... "My time at YLJC has been more formative than I could have envisioned. I couldn't imagine a more positive way to channel the stress generated by the current world events. Charlie Arbelaez and Gilbert Castellanos have both been incredible sources of knowledge and inspiration. I will always be indebted to them for their direction and willingness to help me develop as a musician... Staying local for the next couple years will allow me to remain a participant in the local scene and strengthen the relationships YLJC has allowed me to make. Special thanks to Mr. Dennis and Kahlil Childs, my mentors, and the members of my ensemble."

Kaia Kim-Weigandt - Vocals

Kaia Kim-Weigandt will attend UC Irvine where she will major in Theater at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts

About Kaia... "While I have been singing and performing all my life, I did not have the opportunity to fall in love with jazz music and culture until my sophomore year of high school when I joined YLJC. Since then, I have grown tremendously as an artist, and become extremely passionate about this new world...  While my goal in life is to pursue a career in screen or stage acting, music will always be very important to me. I hope to take jazz classes and continue to stay involved in jazz culture in my college years and beyond, and it is not something I ever plan on giving up. I am extremely grateful for my time with Young Lions and how it shaped me as a performer and as an individual. I would like to thank my instructors Ian Buss, Rob Thorsen, and of course, Gilbert Castellanos for all of the amazing musical guidance and countless opportunities. I will never forget my time spent with Young Lions Jazz Conservatory."

Justin Ortiz - Trombone

Justin Ortiz will attend Mira Costa College to complete an AA in music, with plans to transfer to a four-year college to pursue his passion for jazz music

About Justin... Justin's love for music started with the piano in elementary school. He recently completed level seven of the Certificate of Merit Program for piano with State Honors and Senior Honors. In high school, his primary instrument has been the trombone. Last year, he received the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award. Being in Young Lions Jazz Conservatory has been a privilege and a highlight of his senior year. Collaborating with others who share the love of jazz and working with an instructor who has so much life experiences to share, has been invaluable.

Harley Shephard - Piano

Harley Shephard will attend NYU to study Music Composition

About Harley... "...I’ve been playing piano for most of my life, but discovered my passion for writing music through my four years at the conservatory. Now that I’ve graduated... my ultimate goal to become a composer for film. I am so thankful for all of the friends and mentors I’ve made throughout high school and at YLJC that have pushed me to grow and develop as an artist, and I can’t wait for what lies ahead."

Benjamin Shimabukuro - Piano

Benjamin Shimabukuro will be attending MIT where students do not officially choose their majors until their second year.

About Benjamin... Ben started taking classical piano lessons when he was around five years old. He was introduced to jazz in fifth grade, when he joined the jazz band at Dana Middle School. He switched to Mt. Everest Academy two years later, where he remained until his senior year. He has participated in Young Lions Jazz Conservatory for three years. He writes original compositions for both classical and jazz music, uploading many of them to his YouTube channel. He became a member of the Music Teachers' Association of California's Young Composers Guild in 2020. Outside of music, he has participated in many math competitions, getting an Honorable Mention at the USA Junior Mathematical Olympiad in 2019. He is also the captain of his school's Quiz Bowl team. He will most likely be majoring in Applied Mathematics, Physics, or Mechanical Engineering, and possibly getting a music-related minor if he has enough time. Being in Young Lions has taught him a lot, not just about jazz, but also about being more dedicated and responsible overall.

Dave Waldapfel - Trumpet

Dave Waldapfel will be attending Cal State San Marcos majoring in Business with a minor in Music Technology

About Dave... Dave first discovered his love of music in the Warren Walker Middle School band. He then attended St. Augustine High School where he participated in pep hand, symphonic band, concert band and the 32nd Street Honors Jazz band. Jazz has become his true passion and he has gone on to form his own professional band called Jazz Inc. with fellow Young Lions Randy Hild and Dominic Negrín. Jazz Inc. performs at Balboa Park and local venues in the San Diego area. Jazz Inc. recently finished recording their first set of jazz standards. Young Lions has been an amazing experience for Dave! It has furthered his commitment to playing and raised his expectations for himself. Young Lions developed his skills as a performer and made him more confident. His teacher, Mr. Arbelaez, has been a inspiration and wonderful mentor to Dave and has helped him make connections to professionals in the industry.

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