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The special meaning behind a local orchestra's 4th of July performance in Tonawanda

Posted at 10:09 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 23:16:51-04

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Ask Frank Lorango of North Tonawanda this question: "When did music come into your life?" And his face will light up when he answers.

"Music came into my life when I was 11 years old, of course that was back in the depression age, I couldn't afford an instrument and I took an instrument at a gentleman's house," Lorango said.

That neighbor eventually bought a new instrument, and offered up the alto saxophone Lorango was playing to Lorango's mother.

"My mother said no I can't afford it," Lorango said. "And the man said to her, can you afford a quarter a week, and that's how I got my first instrument, a quarter a week."

Now Lorango is Director of Western New York's Sugar and Jazz Orchestra. The group is mainly made up of teens 12-18 years old, but adults are part of the group too.

Sugar and Jazz plays big band music. Glen Miller numbers are a favorite for Lorango, and for the musicians. A few years ago when he took the group to perform in California, he said the band members, who are in middle and high school, laid down on the sidewalk next to the Glen Miller star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Lorango's been the ensemble's leader for more than 40 years.

"I don't want to give it up," he says. "Music means a lot to me, and I hate to see the era of the big band era of the 1940s disappear. I'm trying to keep it alive as much as we can."

The music goes back almost 80 years. As the notes fade, so do the World War II veterans who once danced and listened to the big band sound. Veterans like Lorango.

He played in the United States Navy Band for seven months while serving in World War II. This Independence Day Sugar and Jazz performed at Niawanda Park in Tonawanda. The orchestra celebrated more than just America's birthday,

"I'm planning on dedicating this program to David Bellavia," he said.

Frank Lorango is 93 years old, but says he feels more like he's in his 60s. Still you might be wondering, has he ever said the word retirement?

"No, no," he answered. "I know the end will come some day for me, but I'm not ready for it yet."