Year in Review: Big-Band legend Johnny Knorr died Aug. 28Written by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Big-band music and the city of Toledo lost a legend in 2011 when Johnny Knorr died Aug. 28 at the age of 90. Knorr founded the Johnny Knorr Orchestra in 1960 and was the musical director for 50 years before retiring last year.
“He’s been a mainstay,” said Jerry Knorr, Johnny’s son and the current musical director of the Johnny Knorr Orchestra. “He was underrated by not being flashy and outspoken about things. He was always conservative in his approach. Therefore, many times people didn’t know what all the involvement was. In his absence, it will be more known what his value really was to the community.”
Jerry officially became musical director at the beginning of the year, although he had been helping his father perform the duties for the past couple of years.
“He’s been my mentor all along,” Jerry said. “It was an unusual relationship for a father and son, but I always looked up to him for guidance, especially with playing and everything else.”
For the first time in 26 years, the orchestra will not host its New Year’s Eve gala, featured annually at Stranahan Theater’s Great Hall.
“Stranahan, the Great Hall where we’ve had the event for many years, they rented the hall to someone else,” Jerry said.
Jerry attempted to book another venue, but there was nothing available that could accommodate the party.
“I’m very depressed about it,” he said. “After you’ve done something for 26 years, it’s quite a letdown. Sometimes I feel it’s my fault and I’ve let everybody down by not putting it together. But if I couldn’t put it together in the manner and fashion to which we’ve become accustomed, that wouldn’t be good, either. There are a lot of people disappointed, but none more than I.”
Along with bringing back the New Year’s Eve party in 2012, the orchestra will continue playing the “Dancing Under the Stars” programs at Centennial Terrace. Jerry said there are also plans for a new dance party series and a memorial concert in tribute to his father.
Jerry has been with the band since the beginning; he started playing saxophone with the orchestra at age 18. The Johnny Knorr Orchestra debuted as a 10-piece band at the El Rancho Ballroom on Dec. 10, 1960.
Johnny began playing violin at age 9, but he learned the saxophone while attending Libbey High School so he could join the marching band. Johnny was well respected across the music industry. Johnny Desmond, a vocalist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, once told him, “You play tenor sax the way I like to hear it.”
“I would match him with any saxophone player in the music business,” said Michael Drew Shaw, a friend of Johnny who wrote and produced a documentary about the orchestra. “He put his special touch on everything he played.”