Johnny Knorr Orchestra brings back its New Year’s Eve partyWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
The Johnny Knorr Orchestra is bringing the big-band sound back to New Year’s Eve with its gala celebration. Last year was the first time in decades the party did not occur.
This year will mark the 27th New Year’s Eve Gala, said Jerry Knorr, the musical director. Knorr’s father Johnny started the orchestra in 1960 and died in August 2011.
“The Stranahan Great Hall (the party’s location), they had booked another party [last year] and it was shortly after my father’s passing and it was just a little too much to handle. We’re pleased to be able to bring it back this year and resume a longstanding tradition,” Jerry said.
The party will feature a large dance floor, a buffet by Michael’s Gourmet Catering and a performance by the ballroom act “Strictly Show.” There will also be a champagne toast to welcome 2013. “Ragtime” Rick Grafing and Dennis Williams will emcee the event.
And of course, The Johnny Knorr Orchestra will perform.
Jerry took over as musical director in early 2011 and has continued to lead the band since his father’s death. He joined the orchestra as a high school student.
“I’ve been with the orchestra since day one and have always been a part of it and this is just an evolution, continuing the tradition. As we approach our 53rd year, to me, it’s just been a natural transition of carrying on the orchestra,” Jerry said.
Michael Drew Shaw, a longtime friend of Johnny’s who also produced a documentary on the orchestra, said, “I think that it’s been a difficult year for Jerry. … These guys weren’t just father and son, they were business partners. They lived next door to each other out in Oregon. I know Jerry took the loss of his pop pretty hard, but I’ve been impressed with his determination to keep the band going.”
The reason the orchestra is so successful is because of its commitment to Johnny’s principles — and to pleasing the crowd, Jerry said.
“[Johnny] grew up as what was known as a sideman and played with several different orchestras. And he thought he just wanted to do things a little bit better so he formed his own orchestra,” Jerry said.
“[He] always was striving for a little bit better and I guess that’s what brought about the longevity (of the group). He always was observant and played for the dancers … we always played for the audience, the dancers, so they always wanted us to return.”
Shaw said the orchestra’s work ethic is why it has been on the Toledo music scene for so long.
“[Jerry and Johnny] have a passion for the music they play. … The orchestra members have that same passion. They just love to get out there and play the music.
“I think it’s that collective passion they have for keeping big-band music alive,” he said.
Although they have the same work ethic, Jerry said there are differences between him and his father.
“Dad was a very stern taskmaster and I guess I’m a little more relaxed about it and achieve similar goals in a different manner” he said.
Like his father, Jerry plays the saxophone and the clarinet. His grandfather was also musical and played the piano.
Jerry has an engineering degree and also attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
Today, his orchestra has 12 members and two vocalists. The average tenure of an orchestra member is 25 years, Jerry said.
“These are all professional musicians and they travel as much as 100 miles to come play with us,” he said.
The orchestra will release a new CD, “We’ll Meet Again,” at its New Year’s Eve party.
“We’re very excited about being able to have this new CD and have that be a part of the New Year’s Eve function. It’s been a few years since we did a recording, so we’re pleased to bring it out,” Jerry said, adding that the new album is “a little
bit of the past, the present and
The CD will also be available for $15 at johnnyknorr.com.
The gala draws in people from all over, Jerry said.
“The event is sometimes quite amazing as to the following we have. I have people who have obtained tickets from Columbus and from as far away as Florida.”
Tickets for the gala are $60 per person and must be purchased by Dec. 28. Call (419) 697-7612 to purchase. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Stranahan Great Hall, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.