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A prince of a polka master

DarlakBuffalo has inherited some wonderful musicians because they have married people from our town. That was the case with the great jazz pianist Al Tinney, who came here years ago because his wife was from here. And the young jazz pianist Michael T. Jones, who moved to Buffalo for the same reason after graduating from Oberlin.

A third treasure we inherited through marriage is the polka musician Jerry Darlak, who this year has a chance to win his third Grammy Award. That is Jerry Darlak at far left in the picture above. The picture was snapped by News photographer Derek Gee when Darlak and his band, the Buffalo Touch, were doing a Christmas show at Arty's Tavern next door to the Central Terminal.

Talking to Darlak at his Lovejoy home last week, I found myself thinking that his story resembled Al Tinney's in some ways. Both musicians had made a name for themselves in their (admittedly wildly different) musical fields before coming to Buffalo. Both of them stayed on in Buffalo although the marriages that brought them here ended.

Here is another interesting coincidence: Both musicians moved to Buffalo and found non-music jobs -- Tinney as a shoe salesman, Darlak as a county employee. Both of them intended to give up music, to hang it up. And both of them found that they couldn't. The people in Buffalo simply wouldn't let them.

Both of them also are tremendously humble, considering their accomplishments. Last week, talking to Darlak for the story appearing in this week's Spotlight section, I was struck by the contrast between the celebrity he enjoys when he goes to the Grammy Awards and his warm, down-to-earth, working-class life in Buffalo. Perhaps the musicians in his band take their cue from him, because they are the same way.

Darlak was marveling good-naturedly at the memory of TV bandleader Paul Schaefer congratulating them. "Here's a guy you see every day, and he's congratulating us!" he laughed.

"We saw Gwen Stefani and Samuel L. Jackson. And then the paparazzi, they started snapping pictures of us!" his band mate Ken Machelski exclaimed.

Then the bass player, who goes by the name of Tadj, made just the kind of self-deprecating joke the whole band loves.

"We didn't tell them who the hell we were," he said. "Because then they'd stop taking our picture."

May Jerry Darlak and the Touch triumph at the Grammy Awards this year.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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