Most of the best examples of Polish folkloric music of the early 20th century were recorded by Victor and Columbia Records in Chicago and New York City - not in Poland proper. By the mid-1920s, both companies were actively recording folk music by recent immigrants from across the globe, for
sale in their adopted stateside communities. Sales of these records were miniscule compared to, say, a hit by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, which could sell up to a million copies. A good seller for a Polish record by Victor was probably one or two thousand, I’m guessing. But, that didn’t stop these companies from striving to develop emerging markets during this period, and recording costs were comparatively low. It’s staggering the variety, volume, and musical quality they captured.
This week, I really wanted to showcase a fine example of Polish wiejska, or “village music.” At first, I remastered a classic by the Makowska Orkiestra Działowego titled “Zbójcy W Karcmie” or, “Outlaws in the Road House.” But, I quickly realized that it had already been compiled on the excellent Arhoolie release Polish Village Music. Then, I decided to use Władyslaw Polak’s “Dzieci W Krateczki” or, “Children In Squares.” After which, I discovered that Polak’s tune was used on the compilation Stranded In the USA. I want to keep this blog strictly for 78s that have NOT been compiled anywhere since the shellac was released.
Then I remembered my records by the great violin player Franciszek Dukla and his group, who, with his band, was the very first to record Polish village music on 78 (and was frequently credited as “Fr. Dukli” as you can see by this release). This track, a mazurka, whose English title is “Nobody Can,” was recorded in Chicago on November 13, 1927.
Village music is exactly what it might sound like from its name - oldtime, Polish country music from the village. A typical village music band consists of a lead fiddle, two harmony fiddles, a bowed bass or cello, and a clarinet. In the great reference text Ethnic Recordings In America, Richard Spottswood interviews a Polish record store owner named Alvin Sajewski, who sold records in his family’s Chicago store throughout the 20s and long after. He also helped to locate, discover, and promote Polish musicians during that time. They discussed Dukla’s records:
Q: Frank Dukla’s music sounds older than other music that was on records at that point.
A: Well, yes, it was. After all, they were all old musicians, and they all played by ear. None of ‘em played from music. Maybe some of them did, but they didn’t have arrangements or anything…Dukla had a kind of bass that really came out beautifully on [early electric phonographs].
Technical NotesLabel: Victor Issue Number: 18-80589 Matrix Number: 40861
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