Leonard Zielinski, Teamster Funeral Director
Teamster Brings Old-World Instrument to Life
Local 727 Funeral Director Plays Concertina in Polka Band

To find his musical calling, Teamsters Local 727 funeral director Leonard Zielinski looked to the past.

When Zielinski moved from tiny Oglesby, Ill., to Chicago in 1984 to attend Worsham College of Mortuary Science, he became captivated by Polish-style polka music. He was especially interested in the concertina and decided he wanted to learn to play it.

"It's not like any of the other instruments; it's unique," said Zielinski, 47. "It's an old-world instrument. Its origins are actually German, but it's become a staple in most of the bands that play this type of polka."

When did you begin playing concertina?
I’ve been playing for about 20 years now. In 1984, when I moved to Chicago to go to mortuary school, I was exposed to polka music. I took a liking to it and decided that the concertina was an interesting instrument and I wanted to learn how to play it.

What kind of polka music do you play?
The polka music we play is Polish with English vocals. It’s more of a driving sound than the oompah sound of some eastern European polka.

What does the name D Street Band mean?
D Street comes from Division Street. On Division Street between Ashland and Damen, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it used to be crowded with all these small lounges and taverns that had live music, and much of it was polka music. You could hear live music every night of the week. A lot of what we play stems from that influence.

How did the band come together?
We all have played with different groups throughout the years, and we got together to put this band together. Everyone in the band has a ton of experience, 10, 20, 30 years easily. We’ve been together for about three years.

How often do you rehearse?
We rehearse as much as we can, usually two or three times a month. Everybody has their own lives that include work and families, so getting all six of us together can be a challenge sometimes.

And how often do you perform?
We’re booked heavy in the summer – a lot of festivals -- and we’re getting a few gigs lined up for the fall. We already have some things going for next year. It’s our first year of really taking off with a heavier schedule of performances. We produced a CD last year and that helped us get recognition in different states, so with that comes more bookings. We’ve been asked to play in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. I look forward to an even busier year next year.

Why is polka music special?
The appreciation for polka music usually comes from families. If it’s in your family, it carries on and it’s part of your tradition.

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