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Youngest Jazz Band wins gold at festival

Donations and benefit concerts raised just enough money to send Sonny LaRosa's America's Youngest Jazz Band to the New Orleans Music Festival last weekend. In return, the band brought home some gold.

The band of 6- to 12-year-olds won the gold medal, the top honor given by the International Music Festival, which organizes music festivals worldwide, including the New Orleans event.

That group has judged about 10,000 performing ensembles, but only 8 percent have received the gold medal, said Marci Lee, the publicist for the jazz band. Many of the other bands at the New Orleans festival were high school and college groups.

"They gave our kids a standing ovation," said Jean Sandberg, whose sons, Kristopher, 9, and Leland, 6, are in the band.

LaRosa, a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York, draws children from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for the band, which he founded in Clearwater 17 years ago. He selects an instrument for each child, then writes parts for them according to their ability.

The gold medal already is opening new opportunities for the band, including invitations to perform at large concert venues such as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Lee said a large corporation also is talking about sponsoring the band, but she declined to name it.

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