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White Oak family hopes Grammy will 'Come on Over'

| Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005

Few college students will admit it in front of their parents, but most have been to a few crazy parties that they'd rather Mom and Dad didn't know about.

Duquesne University student Ryan Ogrodny, 19, of White Oak is going to the most extravagant party on the planet this weekend -- with Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock and hundreds of other world-famous, jet-setting party people. But Ogrodny's going with his mom, Dee-Dee, of White Oak.

A good-sized chunk of his extended family is going to the Grammy Awards. They're all in Henny & the Versa J's, Pittsburgh's premier polka band, which received its first nomination this year -- best polka album, for "Come on Over." Ryan sings and plays 10 instruments. Dee-Dee plays keyboards and sings. Ryan's dad, Stas' plays trumpet and sings, his cousin Butch Jasiewicz plays drums, and his uncle Henny Jasiewicz is the bandleader and plays trumpet.

Longtime friend Randy Koslosky plays accordion and piano and sings, and Frank Gibala plays clarinet and sax. The band plays a mixture of traditional and original songs.

"Most kids, when the weekend comes, want to get away from their parents, probably," Ryan says. "I live at home, and I'm an only child, so my parents are like my siblings. We have a really good relationship -- we have fun together."

Before the awards ceremony, there's the nominee party.

"All these artists come together, whether it's rap or polka," Ryan says. "A friend of mine was nominated last year (Eddie Blazonczyk Jr.), and he was talking to P. Diddy about polkas!"

Ogrodny found out about the Grammy nomination after taking a final exam at school, and finding his cell phone clogged with messages.

"There were probably 10 messages on my phone when I got out," he says. "I was thinking, 'What the heck's going on here?' I heard my mom screaming at the top of her lungs, and I'm thinking, 'There's something wrong.'"

Ogrodny knew this music was for him almost as soon as he could talk.

"My whole family's 100 percent Polish, and I was just born into it," he says. "Actually, I have vivid memories of when I was three -- or even younger, probably two and a half -- sitting on my grandfather's knee. I used to hold his hand as he was bowing the strings."

The band has been together since 1972. Its leader, Henny, has been playing polka music for 50 years, previously in the Bell Hops and the Polish All-Stars.

Henny & the Versa J's won't be featured on tonight's television broadcast. The vast majority of the 107 awards are given out at a ceremony before the broadcast.

There's an opening for a new winner this year. Of the 18 years that the polka Grammy has existed, Jimmy Sturr has won it 14 times. This was the first year he wasn't nominated.

But the competition still is stiff. Brave Combo is as big as polka gets -- they were even on "The Simpsons."

"Walter Ostanek is more of a Slovenian style," Ryan says. "We're more of a Polish style, which adds trumpets, and is more heavy on brass and the fiddle. Brave Combo is more like a Tex-Mex type of deal, with button boxes and things like that."

But Ryan's not immune to current music trends. Although he's also an accomplished jazz and classical player, he listens to country as much as polka during his commute in to school. He even cut a country demo in Nashville recently.

For now, he's busy going to class and singing in his family's dance band at festivals and dozens of small-town shindigs, give or take a Grammy party or two. But that's not a bad life for a young musician.

"There are a lot of beautiful young girls who come to these dances," he admits, after a little prodding. "I don't have a steady girlfriend, so -- it really is a lot of fun at the festivals."

"But always, my mom's on the left side of me (onstage)," he says, laughing. "You gotta watch that!"

Ostanek is nominated with Gaylord Klancnik for "Polkas United," and Brave Combo for "Let's Kiss: 25th Anniversary Album."

Rounding out the category are "Highways & Dancehalls" by Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones and "Pangora's Box" by John Gora & Gorale.

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