AN INTERVIEW WITH LEON KOZICKI – FOUNDER, ADVISOR, HALL OF FAMER, PAST PRESIDENT AND CHAIRMAN OF THE POLKA HALL OF FAME
IPA INTERVIEW — MAY, 2011
by Christy Krawisz, Editor of the IPA Newsletter
Reprinted from the IPA Newsletter with the Editor’s Permission
IPA: Please tell me about your family.
Leon: My parents were born in the United States, father of Polish and mother of German ancestry. I was born in Chicago on July 4. I have a sister, Rita, who is four years younger. My father was a businessman and was a self-taught piano and accordion player who enjoyed polka music. My wife Virginia, who died in 1981, was a trombone player and my sister played clarinet.
IPA: What made you decide to start up the International Polka Association?
Leon: For the polka to be recognized as a part of the music industry by bringing the isolated segments of polka enthusiasts together as one large group at the national level. To have a formidable central association serving as a meaningful voice in the promotion, advancement and promulgation of polka music. And to seek the expanded attention of the national news media. To encourage more dances, festivals, distribution of polka recordings, radio-TV programs, news publications, etc.
IPA: How did you decide who the Trustees of the Polka Music Hall of Fame would be?
Leon: This is decided by the recommendation of their peers for considerable experience and knowledge of many aspects of polka music, professional honesty and a willingness to perform the duties.
IPA: What was your most memorable IPA Convention and why?
Leon: It was the first IPA convention — festival presented at the Red Carpet Hotel and Convention Center in Milwaukee because of the challenge it presented being at a new venue away from the Chicago area. It attracted several thousand fans and was awesome.
IPA: What was the most memorable IPA Polka Music Hall of Fame ceremony and why?
Leon: It was the very first Hall of Fame induction of Li’l Wally and Frankie Yankovic, attended by many dignitaries, and was the beginning of a 42-year history of the Polka Music Hall of Fame. The 1977 ceremony was also memorable because it was the year of my own induction along with the great musician Joe Lazarz of Massachusetts.
IPA: What age did you start playing instruments and what were they?
Leon: I started playing an accordion presented to me by my father. However, I had a health issue and the doctor recommended that I learn to play a wind instrument to strengthen my lungs. I started clarinet lessons at age 7 while attending SS. Peter & Paul School in Chicago. Later I learned the saxophone and trumpet.
IPA: Did you ever take lessons from anyone?
Leon: I took lessons from music teacher Paul Zmycinski (Zim), received advanced instruction from John Sovinec, and was tutored by Angelo De Caprio.
IPA: What made you decide to play polkas?
Leon: Originally played pop and polka music, but soon concentrated on polka music because of the personal enjoyment and pleasure derived from playing for polka audiences at weddings, picnics, dances, lounges and festivals. I wanted to be part of our ethnic music, culture and heritage.
IPA: Who did or do you admire musically?
Leon: In pop music I admired Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton. My polka favorites consist of Li’l Wally, Frankie Yankovic, Connecticut Twins, Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr., Steve Adamczyk and the Polka Dot Five.
IPA: If you could go back in time, what would you change?
Leon: Through the years I did what I could with limited finances, available resources and assistance under existing circumstances. A more determined effort to acquire a better working relationship with all segments — Polish, Slovenian, German, Czech, Eastern, Push, Honky, etc., styles could be pursued. I personally have enjoyed a rewarding life with many accomplishments and achievements. I have no need to go back in time.
IPA: How do you think we can keep the music we all love so much going for years to come?
Leon: This is a difficult task because of many obstacles. A dynamic public relations effort should be implemented with a more improved working relationship between everyone — eliminate the petty animosity and grievances that has stifled the progress of polka music. Perhaps the use of the computer and internet may create new opportunities to attract new groups of people. An effort must be made to enter the schools to reach young people through special promotions, youth polka dances, etc.
IPA: If you were asked the question “Why should I join the IPA? What is in it for members?” how would you answer them?
Leon: To join together for a common cause supporting the polka. It employs many musicians (43 years at the annual festival), dances and other functions. Through the IPA radio program it has kept the public informed of upcoming polka events (even those of other associations). You receive the bimonthly membership newsletter. It presents annual polka music awards and maintains the IPA Polka Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It has significantly enhanced and defended the polka from unjust criticism by misinformed or uninformed sources. The IPA offers reduced admission prices and presents a complimentary Christmas party for members. It plays a significant role in preserving traditional polka music for future generations.
IPA: How do you think we can get more people interested in being a member of the IPA?
Leon: Among various items it requires the use of personal contact by officers and members in recruiting friends, relatives, neighbors, business and work associates. Improved public relations and more publicity is worthy of consideration with special promotions. The IPA has done a remarkable job in preserving the national concept of polka music and elevating its image from merely lounges, local halls and picnics in the forest preserves to new venues as ballrooms, major hotels, cruise ships, country clubs, etc. If associations (as IPA) are to function they must have the support of the public if the polka is to be preserved for future generations. Polka columnist Steve Litwin recently indicated that the public must make a more concentrated effort in supporting the bands, attending events, purchasing records, etc., to assure the future of polka music. I AGREE!
IPA: Thank you so much Leon for taking the time to answer all of my questions.