Next-gen jazz kids

San Diego's International Academy of Jazz is festival bound

San Diego’s International Academy of Jazz 9 a.m. Ensemble is competing for a spot in the Monterey Jazz Festival in September.
  • San Diego’s International Academy of Jazz 9 a.m. Ensemble is competing for a spot in the Monterey Jazz Festival in September.
  • Image by Robert Sanchez

The students of the International Academy of Jazz are festival-bound, having been propelled from the strength of their audition tape into a spot at the Next Gen competition, celebrating its 47th year in conjunction with the Monterey Jazz Festival. The event gathers the top music students from around the country. The festival begins on March 31, and wraps up on April 2.

"Autumn Leaves"

...students from the International Academy of Jazz (2015)

...students from the International Academy of Jazz (2015)

Twelve-year-old bassist Johnny Murray is excited to be making his first visit. “It feels pretty awesome because in our division, only six groups in the entire nation got accepted.” Murray performs often with the Young Lions at Panama 66 in Balboa Park, but this is a different experience. “I’m kind of nervous,” he said. “But I think that we just need to do a lot of work so we can do our best up there.”

Fourteen-year-old saxophonist Alvin Paige is returning to the festival for his second year in a row. “I feel like we’re much more prepared this year,” says Paige. “And we know what to expect, so I’m confident in our chances this time around.”

Paige has been playing jazz since elementary school, and he once studied with the late Daniel Jackson. “It’s kind of how I was raised and the home I grew up in. I feel like it’s important to carry on the tradition of playing jazz and I hope to do it professionally as I get older. Going to festivals like this will definitely help with getting into music schools later. I’m not thinking of any college in particular just yet, and I don’t want to limit myself to only doing jazz.”

Also returning for a second year is 15-year-old vocalist Zion Dyson. “It isn’t just a performance thing,” explains Dyson. “They have master-classes and all these cool talks about composing and arranging, too.” She made the most of her contacts. “Last year I got to audition for a five-week summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I got a full scholarship and I’m going back this year!”

Panama 66

1450 Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park

Dyson feels this group is special. “We have this energy — there’s more of a will to practice and the material is more interesting.” The stakes are high. “If we win, we get to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September! Plus all the recognition that goes along with it.”

The International Academy of Jazz 9 a.m. ensemble, directed by Gilbert Castellanos, includes Murray, Paige, and Dyson, plus Johnny Steele on drums, Jason Picker on piano, Nicholas Vedder on trumpet, and Andrew Martinez on guitar. Visit

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