Great sidemen rarely get the attention they deserve. It’s long overdue that we pay tribute to Faustyn Langowski, whose career on clarinet and sax establishes him as one of the premier sidemen of Texas music.
Texas polka fans know Faustyn as the entertaining man on clarinet and sax with Harry Czarnek & the Texas Dutchmen since 1999. Or perhaps they remember him performing with Brian Marshall & the Texas Slavic Playboys, wearing a black hat and making wisecracks that kept the band in stitches. Friends may recall him as the heavy smoking “conversationalist,” who has many stories and the ability to tell them well.
But the heavy smoking has taken its toll, and Faustyn has been forced by emphysema to put down his horn. So now is a good time to give this sidelined sideman his due.
The 75-year-old Polish-heritage Langowski from Bremond (TX) began his musical career at age 7 when his fiddle-playing grandfather (John Mushinski & the White Eagle Boys) handed him a clarinet and told him he would be in the band. He earned his first dollar on his 8th birthday, clad in black pants, white shirt and bow tie, playing with the White Eagle Boys that also included his father and three uncles. Faustyn says, “That dollar was big! I could only make 50 cents a day picking cotton.”
The self-taught Langowski continued to play with the White Eagle Boys, learning the Bremond-area Polish heritage music of polkas, waltzes and obereks.
The family had moved to Houston in 1936, and when Faustyn was entering St. Thomas High School he wanted to play in the band. The band director (who happened to be the father of the famous trumpet man Harry James) discovered that Faustyn could not read music. He asked Faustyn, “How can you expect to be in the band if you can’t read music?” Faustyn’s reply? “I’m already in a band!”
The Langowski family continued their musical heritage. Faustyn’s father Clem was a bass player (later clarinet and sax), who had played with the Light Crust Doughboys. About 1940, Clem joined the new band being formed by legendary Houston bandleader and hall operator Bill Mraz, so Faustyn became well versed in the Houston polka music scene. In 1949, Bill Mraz hired the entire family to play a July 4th date. Soon thereafter the Langowskis were playing for the Hermann Sons Hall.
But Faustyn began expanding his musical genres in Houston. He learned big band, Dixieland, country and more. He played with the Henry King Band, playing in major Houston hotels such as the Shamrock. He played with the Tiny Skaggs Rodeo Band for 27 years, doing “big band country.” As a favorite band of Lyndon Johnson, the band played at the inauguration balls of both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Faustyn also established his own nine-piece band, playing big band music under the name “Foster Lang.” But he also stayed true to his roots, with a Bremond area band that played Polish weddings.
Texas legend Harry Czarnek asked Faustyn to join The Texas Dutchmen in 1999. Harry has great respect for Langowski. “He’s a Polish musician who can play any style of music,” says Czarnek. “He’s very good, and fun too! I can’t say enough good about the man.”
When Brian Marshall set out to document the mostly unwritten Polish heritage music of Texas, he wanted Faustyn, because (like Brian) Faustyn had been raised with the music. Faustyn was both musician and resource for Brian’s “Texas Polish Roots” CD in 1997. He played with Brian and the Texas Slavic Playboys in many engagements, including two trips to major east coast music festivals.
Marshall is high in his praise for Langowski. “Faustyn is one of the last of the ‘cotton picker’s’ generation who learned to play music at the feet of the Polish immigrants in Bremond, TX and then move into mainstream popular music. He can and has played it all, and was widely sought as a musician. Sadly, he is also the last woodwind player who can, by ear, play the Texas Polish music so dear to my heart.”
In his non-musical life, Faustyn passed up an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and attended two years in mechanical engineering at Rice Institute in Houston. After a hitch in the armed forces and several construction jobs, Faustyn became an engineer in the oil field business, spending a lot of time offshore. His keen mind (and hours of watching how things work) resulted in over 70 patents in his name.
Faustyn met his wife “on the job” at the Bill Mraz Dance Hall when a fellow musician’s wife playing matchmaker for the 28 year old introduced him to LaJuana Slaid from Louisiana. They hit it off immediately and Faustyn joked, “I have a dollar, and you have a dollar, let’s go get married!” They settled for a hamburger after the dance, but talked all night. Faustyn decided he would call her “Lou,” and they were married in 1959. Faustyn and Lou raised four children. Lou died in 2005.
Asked about the highlights of his career, Faustyn is succinct. “I was always a sideman, and sidemen never get honors. But it’s something when you take a country boy out of Bremond, put shoes on him, and he ends up playing for the inauguration of two Presidents in Washington, D.C.! I have met people that I otherwise would never have met.”
Now we have all met Faustyn Langowski. Sideman, front and center!
Brian Marshall on Faustyn Langowski
Faustyn is one of the last of the “cotton picker’s” generation who learned to play music at the feet of the first Polish immigrants to Bremond, TX and then move into mainstream popular music and establish himself as a legitimate sought after musician by all professional and non professional band leaders who knew him. Sadly, he is also the last woodwind player who can, by ear, play the Texas Polish music so dear to my heart. He knows it as well as his own heartbeat; an ever-present Polish twang is in all of his music, whether he is performing jazz, country, rock-a-billy, big band, etc.
He can and has played it all. Importantly he has always come back to his roots and loudly proclaimed his pride for the music that is his foundation.
The first time I met Faustyn was on the sidewalk in Bremond, TX about 1987. It was the annual Polski Dzien in Bremond, TX and my Uncle Robert Marshall (harmonica), Jimmy Mazurkiewicz, (concertina) and myself on fiddle, were playing in the shade when we hear, from a distance, a clarinet playing along with us. Looking down the street we see this guy in a cowboy hat walking our direction, blowing a clarinet with a crowd following him like a pied piper. He thought that was really funny and had I not stopped him he probably would have walked all the way to Waco and back just to see if they would tag along. I insisted that he sit down and have a cold beer with us and play a tune. I think we quit playing late that night around midnight.