From an email received March 1, 2005. Used with permission.
Regarding that Witkowski CD: I've not heard the recording, but according to your review, this may have been a fast scheme for someone to try to make a few bucks by producing a CD the cheapest way -- probably by recording an old phonograph record to tape and just producing a master for CD recordings from the tape. Probably still had scratches and clicks from the original recordings. If the quality is as poor as you say,it is very unlikely that Witkowski would ever release such a recording.
You mention that the label was Stan-Dot. Witkowski owned and recorded on Stella. He also recorded on Dana which was at that time a state-of-the-art-recording company and was at one time considered the third largest in the country. He also recorded for many of the large major companies when they had ethnic or foreign music departments. I understand that he was a task master [and wouldn't] allow junk. In the days of ballroom music,Witkowski played at least three nights a week at ballrooms on Broadway in New York.
At a Polish or Polka Dance he was Bernie Witkowski.
On some private labels he also recorded many "Learn to Dance" albums. The band was never given any credits or mention, only the dance instructor was named on the album.
A reply from Ken Doyle 5/29/05. Used by permission.
I have heard the Stan-Dot Bernie Witkowski CD. Gene guessed it was just an unprocessed record but it's much worse than that. The recordings have been enhanced to death making the band sound as if they were down in a sewer pipe. A CD of a raw record with a few clicks and pops would be a big improvment. Too many CD reissues try to 'modernize' the sound, I say leave the sound alone!
The term "Polka Music" is a generic term that more or less lumps together Eastern European folk songs and dances into a single category.
The term started to be used a few years after the end of World War Two. Before that, ethnic bands were referred to as "dance orchestras" and classified by their nationality. For example "Walt Solek and his Polish Dance Orchestra." Similarly, radio programs that featured polka music were actually foreign language radio programs that included a lot of polkas in their musical selections. Programs of this sort in Chicago included "The Polish Merry-Go Round," "Polish Poppies Program," "Polish Barn Dance," "Slovenian Radio Hour," etc.
Likewise, the major record companies like Columbia, RCA, etc., did not have special departments for polka music, but incorporated it in their "ethnic" or "foreign music" divisions.
The music that the ethnic dance orchestras played had specific dance steps: waltz, oberek, mazur, krakowiak, etc. By the 50s, very few people were dancing the authentic steps to theses dances. The dancers more or less improvised their own dance steps to 3/4 or 3/8 dances like waltzes and obereks. The most popular Polish style polka probably originated as a variation of the Polish folk dance, the Krakowiak.
Now add the dances of other countries which are now in this one classification, and you will see how difficult it would be to do any documentation today [Ed.: I had discussed with Gene the need for better documentation of polka music.] It would be the same as calling a Hora a polka when in fact the Hora is an Isreali, Jewish, Bulgarian, and Romanian folk dance with specific steps.
I personally feel that the popularity of "polka music" could increase if people would take the time to learn these fun group dances. Take the Chicken Dance for example. Most people have their own favorite style of polka music, yet they all responded to this dance.