Nearly thirty years ago, trumpeter Sonny LaRosa, a transplanted New Yorker living in Florida, decided to use some of his spare time to do something productive. Gathering around him a handful of young wannabe musicians, the former professional trumpeter established America's Youngest Jazz Band, which has been growing in size and talent ever since. The band, whose upper age limit is thirteen, has recorded a number of CDs, with the aptly-titled 28th Anniversary marking its 28th year and the indefatigable LaRosa's 80th birthday.
LaRosa is something of a one-man band himself. He conducts, arranges, chooses the material, rehearses the band and shepherds his young charges to concerts and festivals in Florida, across the country and even overseas to Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival, where the group performed in 1995. A May 2007 performance at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's Swing Into Spring spectacular earned the WYJB standing ovations.
The band, which began with about half a dozen recruits, is now more than twenty members strong, and LaRosa sees to it that almost every one of them has a moment in the spotlight at least once in every concert. Among the crowd-pleasers in Los Angeles was the WYJB's four-year-old singer, Shekinah Martin. She's not on the CD, but a number of others are, and they acquit themselves admirably on LaRosa's straightforward and likable charts.
The band opens as usual with its signature tune, "Bugle Call Rag, which drew the attention of jazz writer Nat Hentoff and inspired him to write an article about the WYJB in the Wall Street Journal and to include a chapter on them in his book, American Music Is (Da Capo, 2004). Much of the rest is familiar fare, including "Satin Doll, "I've Got a Crush on You and "Over the Rainbow, many recorded on earlier albums, with most of the songs showcasing one or more members of the ensemble.
The band wraps things up with a "Salute to George Gershwin and Louis Prima's memorable "Sing Sing Sing, the theme that made Benny Goodman a household name, with thirteen-year-old drummer Trey Moore sitting in here for Gene Krupa. LaRosa's trumpet takes center stage on the last numbers, "Angel Eyes and "Imagination, and he's heard again on the ballad "When I Fall in Love.
As noted in my review of the band's earlier CD, Live at the March of Jazz 2002 (Self Published, 2002), much to LaRosa's chagrin, no one will ever mistake these kids for Basie, Ellington or Kenton. What's important is that they are doing the best they can, and that LaRosa has instilled in them a love for the music that one hopes may endure for a lifetime. As Nat Hentoff observed, "[LaRosa] should be a model to many educators throughout the world. That he should, and anyone who'd like to hear and be impressed by what he has done need only listen to the album or, better yet, catch the World's Youngest Jazz Band in concert.
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