It’s been more than 10 years since Don Lohr started the 18-member group, and it's still going strong.
The clock seems to move backward and then stand still on Monday nights at the VFW Post 2093 in Orlando. With a simple count in, 18 members of a musical family step in and speak with one voice, playing through tunes such as “Willow Weep for Me,” “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Each song is played with a sound that harkens back to the Big Band era that dominated the 1940s.
It’s what motivates trombone player Don Lohr, 84, to drive from the Windermere area once a week — and why he started the band in the first place.
Lohr formed The Crew Big Band in 2008, and the group has given local players a creative outlet ever since.
Gathering every week to play through new songs and practice, The Crew gives longtime musicians and music hobbyists alike a place to gather and play.
“There are times when we have our disagreements,” Lohr said. “It’s usually over the tempo or the volume. … But it’s all for the perfection of what we’re trying to do.
“We know how it should sound, he said.”
Lohr first picked up a trombone in the fifth grade while growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s. It was an era that left Lohr inspired by the works of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Harry James that were heard constantly on the radio waves. Lohr wanted to play a clarinet at the time, but the music class didn’t have any left. He might have resented the old antique trombone at first, but eventually the match seemed to be destiny, he said.
At age 13, Lohr decided he either needed to get serious with learning the trombone or get rid of it altogether. He ended up taking lessons with Ralph Daubert, an accomplished trombone player. Lohr grew as a player, joining the Jimmy Ryan Swing Band, where he met his wife, Loretta, a vocalist. He also was invited to join the Allentown Marine Band during his years at Muhlenberg College.
He embarked on a career in insurance and information technology that ultimately kept him away from playing for about 13 years.
That changed in 1973, when he moved to the Orlando area to work for Martin Marietta. He met music arranger and close friend Mike Arena, and the two formed the Seminole Community College Concert Band.
Shortly after, in 1975, the two friends wanted to start a group that brought back that Big Band sound, and thus created the Altamonte Jazz Ensemble — a group in which Lohr played for 32 years. The band eventually became the Sanford Jazz Ensemble, and Lohr left the group to play in other bands about a decade ago. Around that time, he joined the VFW Post 2093 Community Band, and with the help of director Wilbur “Smitty” Smith, he went ahead and formed The Crew in 2008.
The band plays about four to five concerts every year. In the past, it has played at Windermere Rotary Club events, a charity benefit for Do Unto Others and the city of Orlando’s Christmas tree lighting.
“We do it because we like it,” Lohr said. “If it wasn’t for this, I’d be vegetating.”
Lohr understands he and the rest of the members are getting older. Many of his close friends and former members of The Crew with whom he has played have passed away, but new players continue to join the band. Eyes lined with wrinkles and behind spectacles still keep a laser focus on the sheet music on Monday nights. Musical talents and techniques practiced over decades are kept sharp, and a musical tradition continues.
“It’ll never go out of style,” Lohr said.