At 86, Sonny LaRosa brings "Big Band" music to young ears... and performers

SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. - For over 85 years... Sonny LaRosa 's been a "Music Man."  As a world-class trumpeter, he's played "all over." But of late -- in a borrowed rehearsal hall in the lobby of a Safety Harbor church -- he's been taking his Big Band gospel to Bay-area kids...    

"I figure about -- over -- 500..." said Sonny, recounting the number of students he's seen play in his eponymous " America's Youngest Jazz Band " -- which has been his passion for more than three decades.  LaRosa's ensemble normally numbers a couple of dozen -- although at the practice we attended there were about half that many.  But all of them can number all the "classics" among their repertoire.

"I write all the arrangements," said Sonny, who insists on being hands-on in all he can.  

"Things have to be done right," he added.  "I mean you can't just take a stock arrangement of Duke Ellington and just play it off  -- I have to doctor it and still -- with the authenticity -- you know of the big bands."  

As for the musicians... , well, this has been a treat, because they know -- that when it comes to big bands -- Sonny's been, there... done that... and now wants to bring them along for the ride.

"I can see from experience how much he tried," said Melody Toscano, "and he never quit in what he really wanted to do."

Some of these kids have been in other groups, and gravitated to this as their love of music grew...

"And I think it sounds great," said Chloe Sills, cradling a saxophone.  "And I just love the saxophone," she added enthusiastically.  "I think it sounds really soulful."

"It's just like a feel of pure goodness," said Parker Adams, who's been playing the trumpet for years.  "It's just like the feeling of hitting the note and making it sound so pure and so good..."

Then, beaming, he summed it up:  "Its like the best feeling in the world."

A feeling they are sharing... Across the generations, in performances from Clearwater to Montreux .

"And the people they actually cry." said Sonny, referring to the audience members who remember when Big Band music was everywhere...
"I see them come up with tears in their eyes and tell me 'you made me happy today,'" he added, with a twinkle in HIS eye.

"So even that alone makes me happy, you know to think I've accomplished something."

"How long are you planning on keeping this up?" I asked.

"It's a wonderful life for me Bill," said LaRosa, "because I do what I want to do and its excellent."

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