Thursday, July 22, 2004

The "polka compass", trees and theory of evolution

Music is and always wlll inevitably be like a tree ... always branching out into new directions ... some offshoots thriving ... while others for whatever reasons don't quite.
Relatively, I tend to believe that polka music is like the old locust standing guard outside my window here in the office, ever sprawling ... no matter if I care it not to (even after years of consistent pruning). Interesting enough, I also note that even though its "umbrella" is quite large and substantial, every year new "shoots" still spring out of the trunk.

Well I could metaphor till the cow's come home ... but I trust most have been able to decipher the message somewhere between the lines ... you can't stop change, growth or evolution without killing the very thing that which you so cherish... and frankly you're foolish to even try. But, even if such change isn't your cup of tea, it doesn't have to compromise your preferences ... especially with regard to polka music today. If you don't always appreciate such efforts (e.g. my Dad!) for whatever reasons ... don't sweat it ... turn the dial, or pop-in your favourite CD or tape and life will continue on within the aesthetic you desire.

This said, though only in my early 40's, I've come to realize that usually life seeks a natural balance. And while within the polka scene there has recently been some very progressive and essentially creative endeavours ... its only a matter of time till a neoclassic band(s) of some vintage emerges (or re-emerges) to continue such balance.

In the meantime, on looking at polkas from the "big picture", what's happening today is really no different than what's been transpiring in the polka scene over the past 100 years. Are there many popular bands still thriving within the stylings of Ignacy Podgorski or Bruno Kryger?! Too much of a stretch ... okay ... what about the sounds and arrangements of early Blaz (with Chet Kowalkowski), Marion Lush or Frank Yankovic recordings? How do these stack up against even their own recordings 20 years hence (e.g. EBV "Polka Parade" versus "Wide World of Polkas" or Maniu's "Na Zdrowie" versus "On the Road Again").

I tend to think I'm as open-minded with regard to polkas as they can come ... but even I now realize time has affected me to a certain degree.  As while I truly appreciate and recognize the musical talents and creativeness of Brave Combo, Freeze Dried etc. (and do choose to listen to their CD's on occasion), I can't say they're my absolute favourite recordings... HOWEVER it should be noted that they are of my 9 and 12 year old daughters!

And there my friends lies the rub ... in that I liked some of Dad's records (and still truly cherish them today) ... some I thought were pure "trash" in comparison to the relatively progressive offerings of my teens and early 20's (i.e. Chicago Push, TBC, Dynasticks, The Sounds, Magitones etc.). History repeated itself recently when my girls asked ME to play The Beat and some "cool" polkas (e.g. Another Girl) versus a classic Happy Louie CD which was playing (and which I hadn't heard in a while).

And ... while alone in my office later that night, I found myself suddenly appreciating my parents' ( and grandparents') generations perspectives just a little more ... and proceded to burn a few of Dad's favourite records from the 50's so that he could enjoy them while "out and about". Of course that is ... till I get into the car with him, pop out his treasured Marion Lush Greatest Hits CD and watch him grimace as I subject him to the latest polka "adventure"!!!

Best regards,

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Spin Class #1 (vinyl classics)

This month's Chicago-style favourites (random order):
1) Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones - Roaring Polkas:  An album featuring for my money, the quintessential Versatones band with the Tokarz Boys, Jerry Darlak and Lenny.

2) TBC - Winning Combination: I remember my Dad asking me if there was a problem with the turntable upon hearing the chord change subs on Singing Birds Polka ... meanwhile I was in complete ecstasy listening to Frankie harmonically going where most couldn't conceive!

3) Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push - From the Polka Capital: I absolutely loved that first Push band and this album has them in full flight. The vocals (especially between Lenny and Bobby) are pure nirvana and inertia of the band could power a flight to Mars ... and back!!

4) Dynatones - Six Million Dollar Band: The album that made me a bona fide Dynatones fan. This record with the vintage foundation of Scrubby and Larry Trojak (both instrumentally and vocally) is a definite requisite for any Polish polka collection.

5) Trel Tones - Polka Encounters of the Honky Kind: What ... ME becoming a fan of honky?!? Yeah, I can still remember trying to comprehend that very concept ... but here I was not only getting into this album, but subsequently also giving Ray Jay, Stas Golonka and even Dad's Lil Wally albums "new" listens and appreciations. One of my regrets is not seeing this rendition of the Trel Tones live.   

6) G-Notes - At Last: The very first album I purchased by myself at Ruda's Records in Buffalo (Thanks Don ... you're still within my thoughts!!). Featuring Gino Kurdziel, the Karas Brothers and Jerry Miesowicz, this album not only is an alltime favourite of mine, but also set a benchmark for polka musicality subsequently rarely ever met.

7) Eddie Guca and The Polish Canadians - Polkas Made in Canada: Where would Polish polkas be today without the musical influence and contributions of Eddie Guca? Within this album not only are the seeds of the Canadian Fiddlestix but also a polka style seemingly reflected later in many other bands (TPM, DynaBrass & PCM etc.).

8) Heavy Chicago - Lite & Lively: I remember searching high and low for this album (particularly Crazy Stick Polka) and upon my first listen, knowing that in its entirety this record was a classic!

9) Rick Vinecki's Melody Kings - Stoned On Polkas: Though I remember my parents questioning the moral implications of the title track, I just couldn't get enough of this album! This record's drive and musical adventurism can still provide a certain invigoration almost 20 years later! 

10) Chicago's Milwaukee Avenue - The Best Part of Polka Town: What a blast! From Pod Mostem to Hosa Dyna, the band's energy and arrangements sent a flare that something new was definitely afoot in Chicago during the early 80's. I still remember the hair on the back of my neck standing on end as I played the album on our stereo for the first time! 

This month's Cleveland/Eastern style favourites (random order):

1) Stan Wolowic and the Polka Chips - The Second Album: Hail the band which "brought a new and greater respect for the time-honored Polka into millions of American homes" via their national ABC-TV show back circa 1960. This band whose arrangements could easily still cut it in today's scene, from my humble perspective were way ahead of their time. 

2) Kenny Bass and his Polka Poppers - Snap Happy Polkas: Though I didn't get this album till I was into my 20's (and it was already at least 20 years old), it quickly became established as a "keystone" within my Cleveland collection. While the Side One medleys are quite enjoyable, Side Two features a number of classic Cleveland polka charts.

3) Walter Ostanek and The Polka Schmaltz Band - Non Stop Dancing: An album which through the years, I have always held as one of my true personal favourites not only for its diversity, but also for the quality of the band's "sound", even with 70's recording technology. Unabashedly, it was Andy Spinosa's playing throughout this album which inspired me to learn the saxophone and clarinet.

4) Joe Fedorchak Orchestra - Second Time Around: Where do I start? Tomazic's, Penn Hills?? To a great degree it was this album which re-ignited my interest in Cleveland Style polkas while I was actively playing and immersed in Chicago Style bands. If you love Slovenian polkas ... this album is a must! 

5) Gene Wisniewski & The Harmony Bells Orchestra - Beautiful Doll: Besides the music on the record ... one of the first album covers I ever really took notice of!! If you enjoy big band polkas, this album has it all ... including a "calypsolka (calypso/polka)"! The band really kicks into gear though on Hop Scotch and the title track, Beautiful Doll Polka. 

6) Johnny Vadnal & Orchestra - Good Time Polkas: One of the first albums I ever remember putting the accordion on and playing along with. The Vadnal band had such a unique style and I still love the fact that their energy and love for polkas were so easily conveyed throughout this album.  

7) Frankie Yankovic & the Yanks - TV Polkas: THE foundation stone of my polka spirit and love ... with even a couple of the waltzes on this album among my most favourite songs. Anything more said only pales beside the music within this recording. 

8) Jimmy Sturr - Happy Snappy Polkas - This pre-Grammy era album featuring Gene Wisniewski on the vocals has certain joie de vivre lacking from many of the "formula" albums of today. PS ... Jimmy, do you still have the shirt you're wearing on the album cover ... or do you know where we can purchase some for band uniforms!?

9) D-Drifters 5 - On Tour: I couldn't go without including this classic Ukrainian polka album out of Manitoba Canada. When it comes to accordion virtuosity, few can hold a candle to Dave Romanyshyn and this album not only showcases his talents but also those of Yogi Klos on fiddle and vocals. Let you in on a secret wish ... that the D-Drifters get back to their recording roots and whip something up of this nature today!!

10) Bill Gale & his Orchestra - Polka Pops: Absolutely NO album "swings" a polka harder than this baby. The big band arrangements are all "top notch" and even today worthy of inclusion of in ANY "name" swing band's dance book. Whether a big band fan or not, if you can ever get your hands on this recording, I know you won't be dissapointed!

Best regards,

Monday, July 19, 2004

Overture ... hit the lights ...

Dear Friends,
Like a fine wine ... this blog some 35 years in the making is available to those connoisseurs of the polka industry ... interested not only in preservation but also its further development.
Before embarking on this journey though, might I suggest a few elementary"house rules" which I believe will best facilitate this resource:
1. Please no direct personal, cultural or racial slights or insults (However, this doesn't preclude subjective perspectives or personal opinions).
2.  Encourage thoughts and posts through "open comments" (which thought provoke and seed discussions) versus "closed statements" (which tend to stunt discussions).
3. Please respect others' opinions and comments even when divergently differing than yours. Ideally I would hope that a mature decorum be maintained within this blog ... yet still be both stimulating and entertaining.
I trust all interested parties will truly enjoy this new platform of discussion and I look forward with eager anticipation to the days ahead.
Best regards,

Michael Melymuka