Music Union Accuses Youth Band Of Breaking Labor Laws

Director of amateur swing band says group only accepts donations and all money funds maintenance.

A chapter of the American Federation of Musicians union has accused a popular amateur swing band based near Buffalo, N.Y., of violating child-labor laws.

Mark Jones, 42, president of AFM's local 92 in Buffalo, has lodged a complaint with the New York Labor Department claiming that Sugar and Jazz Music Director Frank Lorango, 75, is profiting from the underage musicians in his band without paying them.

Sugar and Jazz feature 12 members younger than 18. Lorango, who has directed the band for 20 years, said he accepts donations only and that any money collected goes toward maintaining the group.

Sugar and Jazz, who operate out of North Tonawanda, Niagara County, are a successful 23-piece band that performed several shows at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y., this week. Jones said that in booking the youth group, the fair canceled several shows that the Pyramid Dance Band, made up of AFM members, were scheduled to play. Jones maintained that Sugar and Jazz earn $500 per show at the fair, and that none of the money goes to the bandmembers.

"We really have no problem with kids performing," Jones said. "We have scholarship money, we have youth members. The problem we have is if any rules are being broken with the law. It is not just the music union that should be concerned, it's anybody."

Sugar and Jazz performed their fourth and final set at the Erie County Fair on Friday (Aug. 18). The fair, which has existed since the Civil War, draws thousands of people from the northeast United States and Canada. On Sunday about 113,000 people attended the event, according to a fair spokesperson.

Lorango, a retired bicycle-shop owner from North Tonawanda, said all the money the band earns pays for rehearsals, instrument purchases and repairs, music stands, lights, speakers, microphones, music sheets and a 1987 van for travel.

"They rehearse in my building," Lorango said. "My rent is free, my light is free, my heat is free. I don't even charge for that. I don't even take a dime. I spend 10 or 11 hours a day working on this thing, working on music and getting things ready."

Lorango said the Labor Department contacted him recently to remind him of New York's child-labor laws. The law requires Lorango to receive parental consent for each bandmember younger than 16. Since the conversation with the department, Lorango canceled a Sugar and Jazz band show scheduled for Aug. 11 because he didn't have parental consent for all the bandmembers.

However, the conflict with the union does not end with the parental-consent issue. Jones said Sugar and Jazz take work away from union members by accepting donations instead of charging market rates. When the amateur band brings in $300 compared to a union band's $1,000 for a gig, Jones said, "people are going to say that if I can get the same thing for $300, then [union members] are losing work."

"People feel that I am stealing their jobs, stealing food off of their table and stealing food out of their kids' mouths," Lorango said. "I'm being discriminated against because the union feels that we're stealing their jobs. The best part of it is, we're 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids, and a professional is afraid of that. Do you think Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. would be afraid of 13-year-olds or encourage them?"

Lorango said he has no plans to cut back on Sugar and Jazz's performance schedule.

"We're not trying to give the union a hard time," he said. "We're here to create and promote music, and keep music alive, especially from the era of the '40s."