Celebrating 15 years of UC San Diego’s Jazz Camp

By Beth Wood

A veritable hotbed of musical activity, 
UC San Diego’s Jazz Camp is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year. Held on the UC San Diego campus, the camp will run June 26–30. Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, who has taught at the camp since its inception, likened it to a fertile garden from which instructors and students grow more and more plants for jazz to bloom.

Designed for students of all ages, the camp offers one-on-one sessions, small-group instruction, and an opportunity to perform for a live audience. Unlike other jazz camps, UC San Diego’s camp covers a remarkable variety of styles, from bebop to contemporary to cutting-edge.

During the past decade and a half, hundreds of students and instructors have participated in the camp. We asked 15 of them to reflect on their experiences.

Gilbert Castellanos   |   Trumpet Instructor
Band leader, composer, producer, and educator*

“I was in my early 20s when I first taught at the Jazz Camp. Getting the opportunity to work with students was my biggest joy. The camp opened my eyes to the importance of the subject and that it needs to be taught year-round to encourage youth and teach them their American heritage: jazz. It’s not only a camp, but a big family. (Camp founder and Director) Dan Atkinson has done a great thing to bring wonderful musicians together. It definitely changed my life.”
Angelica Pruitt   |   Electric and upright bass
Student (2014–2016), currently a high 
school student

“The camp has taught me a new world of jazz and how to approach it. I met many musicians there, and it was a blast. I learned more about how to experiment with your instrument and have fun with it. I continue to learn new things each time I go.”
Joshua White   |   Piano
Band leader, composer, 
and international touring artist

“Jazz camps, such as UC San Diego’s, are very necessary in that they serve as an intense introduction into the musical traditions and history of jazz and improvised music developed in the United States. And participants have an opportunity to interact and learn amongst their peers as well as interact and learn from wonderful faculty.”
David Morales Boroff   |   Piano, violin
Student (2011), currently a senior at Berklee College of Music and 
professional musician

“I went to the camp when I was 17 and was assigned to play violin in an ensemble run by Anthony Davis. I then studied composition privately with him for two years. He was perfect, with a tremendous vision in shaping what I had to offer. Through him, I was inducted into the UC San Diego music scene and was surrounded by people whose job it seemingly was to constantly blow my mind. I am eternally grateful to Jazz Camp.”

Anthony Davis   |   Piano instructor*
UC San Diego professor and internationally acclaimed composer

“Jazz Camp is always invigorating. Getting to know talented young musicians who are in high school reinforces my belief in the future of the music. With talented artists like Joshua White, Chase Morrin, and David Morales Boroff, we can already see the profound impact the camp has had in the larger jazz world.”
Chase Morrin   |   Piano
Student (2007–2009), currently a master’s student at Berklee College of Music

“I was watching a faculty performance with (pianist) Geoffrey Keezer and (guitarist) Peter Sprague. They were so deeply connected; the joyousness of their communication was contagious and inspiring. In that moment, I forgot about theory, harmony, melody—the technical components of music—and only felt the raw expression.”

Chloe Feoranzo   |   Clarinet, saxophone
Student (2006–2007), currently a professional musician touring with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox

“Jazz Camp helped expand my knowledge of jazz theory and playing more modern styles. I come from a background of traditional jazz, so it was interesting to delve deeper into styles such as bop, hard bop, and free jazz. It challenged my playing to have more textures and depth. I believe the camp helps encourage a lot of younger jazz musicians in San Diego to explore different facets of jazz and show them different paths they can go on musically.”
Larry Koonse   |   Guitar Instructor
Professional musician and full-time faculty at California Institute of the Arts

“I remember hearing a young baritone saxophone player at the camp that absolutely astounded me. He was already playing on a professional level and had musical instincts that belied his age. The saxophone was nearly as big as he was! I left with the feeling that the future of jazz was in good hands.”
David Atkinson   |   Vibraphone, piano
Student (2015–2016), professional musician and retired tax attorney

“At one camp, I worked through the week performing a free-form, totally improvised jazz standard with a sixteen-year-old pianist who had never tried this type of improvisation. I’m seventy-nine and had not done a lot of this type of free-form improvisation either. I am self-taught on my instrument. My different instructors showed me new directions to take and encouraged me to seek others who might add to my knowledge and experience.”
Julian Esparza   |  Electric and upright bass
Student (2014–2016), currently a student at California State Long Beach Bob Cole Conservatory of Music

“My most vivid memory from the camp was working with Charles McPherson. He is a true jazz master, and he has taught me to appreciate the music that came before today’s modern jazz. Also, he helped me to become a better listener in an ensemble setting. The camp has a diverse range of styles, ranging from avant-garde, free jazz, bebop, cool jazz, and many more.”
Evona Wascinski   |   Double Bass
Student (2005), staff member (2008–2012), currently a professional musician and 
music teacher

“Jazz Camp has influenced the San Diego jazz scene in so many great ways. It has helped train lots of past and present young lions. And it has helped put San Diego on the map as a thriving and cultivating spot for the jazz art form for students of all ages from all over the world. One of my fondest memories was working in my combo class with the great saxophone legend Charles McPherson.”
Charles McPherson   |   Alto saxophone instructor*
International performing and recording artist and composer

“Jazz Camp has given young students in San Diego a chance to interact with their peers from around the country. When the camp ends, there are always a few students that end up studying privately with me. It’s been good for me to have one jazz camp yearly in my hometown. I do like to travel, but it’s always nice to work here, too.”
Brenda Martin   |   Piano
Student (2011), currently teaching classical and some jazz piano at Point Loma Nazarene University

“Being a classical teacher and a player who has always loved improvising, I began seriously studying jazz around ten years ago. Going to the camp immersed me in jazz for a week. Not only did I hear top-notch musicians perform, but I had the experience of performing with an ensemble of young students. This was both delightful and enriching.”
Sam Gendel   |   Saxophone, guitar
Student (2003), currently a professional musician

“My favorite memory of camp:
Partly cloudy early evening, pink 
and violet shadows on bluffs over the 
Pacific Ocean.
Walking to give the camp’s final performance, parents in attendance.
Take in the cool air.
Enter the hall with the previous image fresh in mind.
Put together saxophone.
Inhale . . . Then what?”
Andres Amezcua   |   Drums, percussion
Student (2009–2010), currently a master’s student in engineering while promoting his guitar/vocal EP “Whenever I’m Gone” (under the name Andres Amez)

“While learning lots of music theory, history, and skills, I met highly skilled musicians my same age, others much younger, and others much older. Since then, 
I have been inspired to always push my limits and keep creativity present in everything I do. On the last day of camp, all my great roommates from the Jazz Camp celebrated my birthday with a cake. We have stayed in contact since then!”
*These instructors have taught at the UC San Diego Jazz Camp since its inception 15 
 years ago.


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