Double Your Music, Double Your Pleasure
February just passed, which came with such grand celebrations such as Ground Hog Day and National Pizza Day, not to mention Valentine’s Day. Every February Texas Polka News spotlights a married couple who have chosen to share the stage with each other making great music for other dancing couples.
This year’s selection is a double header as we visit with Czech And Then Some’s (CATS) married couples: Jennifer and Zeke Martinez and Michelle and David Slovak. CATS is an eight-piece Ennis based orchestra that has a strong family base. Included in the band are two husband and wives, two brothers and sisters, a father and son, and various brother and sister-in-laws.
The first couple, Zeke and Jennifer Slovak Martinez, were married in 2015 and played at their own wedding. Zeke is on percussion and guitar and has a background playing in Tejano bands. His father played in a rock and roll band, so music was all around him as a young lad. Growing up in the small town of Ennis, it would be difficult to not be around Czech polka music and with his schoolmates, who were performing in bands as was their parents and grandparents. Between Tejano and Czech friends, he absorbed a strong polka influence. CATS was needing a drummer in 2007, Zeke sat in several times, and was accepted into the band. During rehearsals and performing, Jennifer and Zeke began to learn about each other and with the drums being situated right behind Jennifer in the reed section, there was a lot of eye contact. They discovered that they had similar tastes in music (besides polka), and other likes that make life enjoyable.
Jennifer Slovak Martinez was led to playing music by her parents as a young lass with piano lessons in the second grade and then school orchestras. Her older brother, David had been playing with The Henry Rejcek Polka Band, and The Czech Harvesters since high school, so Jennifer had an extensive exposure in polka.
Jennifer joined CATS in 1998 playing the clarinet. Early on, a saxophone was handed to her and she quickly learned it. CATS now had the power of twin saxophones and/or twin clarinets. Having the opportunity to perform with her husband has increased the fun factor of playing on stage. They get to share the experience and can relate to each other regarding their music away from the stage.
The second couple of our Vday spotlight is David and Michelle Zapletal Slovak. Michelle’s parents, who both played in the same band, just not at the same time, started her off with piano lessons and accordion. Music seeped into her soul as she spent many nights sleeping on stage and under benches as her mother performed on stage.
Michelle played with Harry Czarnik and the Texas Dutchmen before joining CATS and playing saxophone and clarinet along side David onstage. She loves that her and David are able to do what they love together and can talk about their shared musical experiences. When children came along, sometimes it was difficult to get a babysitter as their relatives were performing or attending. Their son, Joseph, is a drummer and daughter Isabella is learning the saxophone. Michelle has been the secretary of the National Polka Festival for over eighteen years keeping Czech heritage alive in Ennis.
David Slovak, accordion, piano, and everything else needed, played with The Henry Rejcek Polka Band, The Czech Harvesters, and Harry Czarnek’s Texas Dutchmen before founding CATS with Danny Zapletal, his brother-in-law. While in the Dutchmen, Gene Patalak was like a second father to them and Sonny Patalak was a mentor to Danny on both accordion and trumpet.
The interpersonal relationship on stage makes this orchestra a powerhouse on stage. Ennis is blessed by having a very strong Czech music culture, which is partly due to the multi-family member bands. The music scene is not a linear family tree, but a family grapevine as in the several bands originating from this small town are made up of fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and various in-laws as well as friends who grew up the Czech way.
To clarify, CATS is the acronym for Czech and Then Some, a eight-piece multiethnic orchestra. The nickname came about when Danny Zapletal's wife got tired of filling her calendar space with "Czech and Then Some" and started abbreviating it to reserve that day for a performance or practice. The actual name is a descriptor of the Czech music they play and the “then some” refers to the German, country, and fun music they play.