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The History of LaVilla

The historic LaVilla area was known as "The Harlem of the South" during its heyday as Jacksonville's jazz entertainment district. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and other jazz greats performed along the Ashley Street strip from the 1920s through the '60s. In 2000, LaVilla School of the Arts opened as a magnet school for the visual and performing arts, built on the former site of the Roosevelt Theatre. LaVilla has been recognized by the Florida Department of Education as an "A" school every year since it opened.

LaVilla School of the Arts draws middle school students from all parts of Jacksonville to its nine specialized arts area programs. The school's first band directors were Mrs. Carol McQueen and Mr. Jim Daniel, who carried over a successful program from Landon Middle School. Immediately upon its creation, LaVilla Bands began showcasing ensembles for audiences across the region, with early performances in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In the two decades since, an unbroken line of succession has led to the current LaVilla Band directors, who have recently brought ensembles to Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

Recent Recognition

In 2007, LaVilla was featured in the documentary film Chops, which followed band students from their first notes at LaVilla to their performance at the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival with Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been screened at Lincoln Center in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

In 2019, the LaVilla School of the Arts Ashley Street Jazz Band was invited to perform at the 73rd annual Midwest Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. With more than 18,000 attendees from all 50 states and more than 30 countries, the Midwest Clinic gathers musicians, educators, and people passionate about music education of all skill levels in Chicago for the largest conference of its kind. The conference showcases the finest performances by ensembles from around the globe.

In 2020, the National Band Association named LaVilla Bands a national recipient of the Programs of Excellence Blue Ribbon Award. This award recognizes quality programs and educators which challenge students and promote standards of excellence. LaVilla was the only middle school in the country to be recognized with this award at the national level in 2020.

Additionally, LaVilla School of the Arts has been recognized for its achievement in multiple arts areas:

  • 2020-2023 Florida Arts Model School in Theatre (Florida Alliance for Arts Education)

  • 2019-2022 Florida Arts Model School in Visual Art (Florida Alliance for Arts Education)

  • 2018-2021 Florida Arts Model School in Music (Florida Alliance for Arts Education)

  • 2018 Outstanding Art School Award (Arts School Network)

  • 2017-2020 Florida Arts Model School in Dance (Florida Alliance for Arts Education)

  • 2017 Arts Innovation Award (Arts School Network)

Notable Performances and Guests

Bands from LaVilla and, prior to 2000, Landon have a long history of performances on stages around the world:

  • CBDNA/NBA Southern Division Conference (2020)

  • The Midwest Clinic (1989, 1997, 2019)

  • Arts School Network Annual Conference (2019)

  • Jacksonville University Jazz Festival (2018)

  • UCF-Orlando Jazz Festival (2014)

  • Savannah Music Festival (2010)

  • Dixie Classic Festivals (2002, 2007, 2008)

  • Grand National Adjudicators Invitational (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)

  • North Sea Jazz Festival (1993, 1997)

  • Montreux Jazz Festival (1988, 1993, 1997)

  • Festival Jazz Sous les Pommiers (1994)

  • National Association of Jazz Educators Conference (1982, 1985)

  • Florida Music Education Association Conference (1983)

LaVilla Bands have been proud to welcome many renowned guests to work with our students:

  • Blue Man Group

  • Dallas Brass

  • Don't Miss a Beat

  • American Brass Quintet

  • Marcus Roberts

  • Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra ensembles

  • University of North Florida faculty ensembles

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