Band finds accolades away from home

Published May 25, 2007

You'd think it would be a bigger deal around here. You'd think there'd be more hoopla. America's Youngest Jazz Band being taught and directed by one of America's oldest jazz stalwarts. But 81-year-old Sonny LaRosa, even after 30 years of teaching clueless preteens how to play like pros, says his band still has to fight for respect in his hometown Tampa Bay area. He says the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, which invited Kenny G last year, won't even take his calls. LaRosa, who always wanted to be a famous trumpeter but had to settle for being a world-class teacher, says: "The city doesn't seem to care." Well, rest assured, at least one city, a big city, still cares very much.

A rave review

This Memorial Day weekend, LaRosa will take 22 kids, ages 4 to 13, all shapes and sizes, to the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's Swing Into Spring Festival, an event featuring "the greatest big bands in the world, " he says. LaRosa's crew will play Saturday and Sunday at the Four Points Sheraton at Los Angeles International Airport. In a long line of invitations for America's Youngest Jazz Band, this is one of the coolest, a gig that came about thanks to some welcome national attention. "Nat Hentoff loves our band, " LaRosa says about the noted jazz critic. "He did a big writeup in Jazz Times. From that, we got calls from all over the world, including Los Angeles."

Starting out right

LaRosa says it's getting harder and harder to find children to fill out his band - even though the group's far-reaching trips are paid for almost exclusively by donations, and even though almost anyone under 14 is eligible. LaRosa sighs: "I remember jazz greats like Doc Severinsen watching my band from the sidelines and saying, 'Wow, I wish I had something like that when I was a kid.' " For more information on America's Youngest Jazz Band, call (727) 725-1788 or go to www.sonnylarosa.com.