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    Can they blow? Check the show

    Sonny LaRosa's young musicians have attracted the attention of Syracuse Jazz Festival organizers in New York.

    [Times photos: Kinfay Moroti]
    Trombonists Colin Meyer, 12, left, Raul Alexis, 11, and Kayla Flannery, 11, are all business during rehearsal Saturday. "I want to be a professional and play at the big places," Kayla says. The group already has traveled to New Orleans in May and played in the venerable Preservation Hall there. Now they're scheduled to play at the Syracuse Jazz Festival later this month.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 6, 2002


    Sonny LaRosa's first attempt to get his kids onstage at a jazz showcase in upstate New York didn't pan out.

    LaRosa figures organizers of last year's Syracuse Jazz Festival couldn't fathom the professionalism and savvy sound of those he considers to be some of the nation's youngest, and best, jazz musicians.

    But LaRosa's application somehow made it to the A-list the second time around. Festival organizers have invited LaRosa's group, America's Youngest Jazz Band, to perform June 22 and 23 alongside stars such as Al Jarreau and Roberta Flack.

    This comes after the group of 6- to 12-year-olds joined a short list of acts deemed good enough to perform in May at the legendary Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

    "This is a big thing," LaRosa, of Safety Harbor, said of the Syracuse festival. "I've been waiting for years to get in there. It just takes a while."

    Leader Sonny LaRosa, 76, founded the band in 1979. He's been waiting for years to get into the Syracuse festival and is happy they made it this year. LaRosa's group is made up of 6- to 12-year-olds.

    LaRosa, 76, started the band in 1979. Since then, the original kids grew up and were replaced with younger ones. Each year, they travel to places such as Switzerland and Canada for performances. A few performed in 1999 at a World Trade Center jazz showcase in New York City.

    Though the group is not stopping in New York City this trip, the events of Sept. 11 have affected its plans.

    Group members incorporated a version of America the Beautiful into their repertoire, though the song likely will not be performed in Syracuse, LaRosa said.

    And some families have decided to skip the flight.

    "They don't really want to fly, so we would like to try a nice train trip," said Dan Bradbury of his wife and 10-year-old daughter, Lara, a trumpeter with the band.

    Of the 22 children in the band, most don't realize the uniqueness of their position.

    "They know they're good, there's no doubt," Bradbury said. "But they're still kids. . . . It's an absolutely fantastic experience for them. They play so much better than what you would think of a children's band."

    Can't make the New York appearance? The band is performing 3 p.m. Saturday at the Paladium Theater at 253 Fifth Ave. N in St. Petersburg. The event is free for children under 12; $5 for everyone else.

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