Jerry Wicentowski was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., studied in Israel and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Impressive stops, no doubt, but certainly not hot spots in the world of bluegrass music.
Even so, Wicentowski, a financial planner at SunAmerica Securities in Milwaukee, grew up listening to the pre-British Invasion folk music of the Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul & Mary; and Bill Monroe. And his interest in the music did not fade over time. He explored the roots of folk and discovered many of the genre's twangs and banjo chords were founded firmly in bluegrass. And his love of bluegrass was forged.
Wicentowski has been picking on guitars and banjos and playing bluegrass since he was a teenager. In 1998, Wicentowski, along with five other featured musicians, released a CD called "Lucky Break." He and his new group, which is called Lucky Break, started performing in local bluegrass/folk clubs in the Chicago area in October 2000.
He was pleased with the reception the band received at its debut. "The place was packed," Wicentowski says. "There was a hush when we took the stage. It was great. We sang four songs, and the regular crowd there really liked us."
"Lucky Break" (the CD) is not the first recording Wicentowski has made. His first band, the Bluegrass Hoppers, put out an album in the late 1960s. It turns out that the woman who runs the Chicago club grew up in Madison and had a copy of that 35-year-old LP.
"She handed it to me and asked me to autograph it as we took the stage," he says.
While he is established in the financial services business, Wicentowski has been on the periphery of the bluegrass scene for years. As a young man, he once met and sang a tune with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe backstage in Madison. Monroe invited him to visit the Grand Ol' Opry in Tennessee. Later, Wicentowski was offered a chance to audition for bluegrass group, the Country Gentlemen, when the group was looking for new members. He rejected the offer, saying he wasn't ready.
A mistake? "Possibly," he says. "Who knows where my career could have gone?"
For now, Wicentowski is content with doing club gigs around Chicago and handing out his CD, a nice gift for bluegrass-loving prospects and clients. He has "all the support I could ever hope for" from his wife Debbie.
Wicentowski loves the music but wasn't blessed with the ability to write original songs. "We take songs from other performers and revamp them," he says.
Someday, Wicentowski and Lucky Break's version of "Venom Wearing Denim" or "Tempest of a Jealous Love" may indeed be their lucky break.
Reviews and information about ordering "Lucky Break" are on Wicentowski's Web site at www.execpc.com/~wicentow.