Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz.  (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.



I’m an architect who does mostly McDonald’s, TGIFridays and synagogues.  I was the first with the “fast-casual shul.”  You can get a nosh at my shuls.  If the worship service is too long, go to the rear of the sanctuary, to my built-in Frank Lloyd Wright snack bar.

My professional credo:

1. Put the bima (altar) on ground level, among the people.  Power to the people.

2. Never use stained glass.  That spells “rich guy” to the little guy.

4. Keep kosher on some level.  (I dine frequently at kosher-style delis.)

5.  Leave a stamp — a signature.  I always embed a tiny cross in the coatroom ceiling for the custodial staff.

I also do retrofits.  I put in a nosh bar at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights.  It caught fire, not literally, but you wouldn’t believe the crowds.. They hired an Israeli chef and a dump truck to maneuver the mounds of ersatz chopped liver.

I’m working on a mosque/falafel stand in Dearborn, Michigan.  Saalam alaykum, bros.  The old Semitic cousin routine.  Whatever.

Fake profile.

March 25, 2015   No Comments



My younger son, Jack, got a certified letter from the IRS with a hand-written Post-it note on it.  What did the gobierno want?  The government usually sends unsigned computer-generated letters.   Maybe Jack the Drummer Boy owed another $15 from his Michigan Wolverines basketball band income.  (Jack was in college at the time.)

Why didn’t the IRS pick on me, instead? I wanted to be audited. I haven’t been audited since 1982. Thirty-three years of saving bills and income/expense statements and checks — and nobody wants to see it.  Yes, I throw the stuff out periodically, but I replenish.

irs and jackJack told the IRS he made money as a camp counselor and playing gigs.  He said his dad paid for college.  Jack later told me, “The auditor was impressed you were footing the out-of-state tuition.”

Thank you.  No penalty.  (Jack got a $68 credit.)

March 18, 2015   5 Comments


I met
Yury, a Russian, only four days after he landed in Cleveland.  I met him at a park bench, 1990.  I sold him my 1978 Buick Regal for $500, and I suggested he change his name from Yury to Yuri.  Yury would be a hindrance to his assimilation, I said.  Yuri – as in “Yuri Gagarin” — worked better, at least for me.

Yury is now an engineer and lives in Beachwood.  Still with the y, 25 years later.

Yury lived in a subsidized apartment two blocks from my house. I helped him light the burners on his stove and lent him an old TV.  When he got the Buick Regal, I told him to check it out with the Russian mechanic down on Mayfield Road.  Yury said, “I do not trust Russians.”

Yiddishe Cup had a Russian drummer, Misha from Tashkent.  He was “the stinger man” because he put a stinger (a klezmer ending) on every tune. Which was annoying.  I went to Misha’s mother’s funeral — the smallest funeral of all time. There were maybe 10 people at the funeral home.  I can’t imagine what that woman lived through, what with the Nazis and Communists.  Misha was a pro drummer. That’s all he did in the Soviet Union.  Shelly Manne came through Tashkent in the 1950s and left a lot of drumsticks behind, which everybody prized.  (Might have been Buddy Rich.  I’m not sure now.)

Misha used to hit his wife and daughter, and admit it.  Misha would say, “Here the police listen to the children. In Russian, the parents.”

Misha moved to Boston to drive a cab.

Moishe, the owner of Davis Caterers, said food at Russian gigs is “out of control.”  He said, “The Russians eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once. Fish and cold cuts. Then soup. Then blintzes. Then prime and salmon and desserts. Plus vodka.”

Yiddishe Cup played a few Russian weddings, but not lately.  I miss the food.  Russian immigrant musicians cornered the Russian wedding market.  Immigrant musicians know what the crowd wants and it’s not us.  Yiddishe Cup’s Russian skill-set is  “7-40,” “Hava Nagila,” and some waltzes like “Ershter Waltz” and “Tumbalalaika.”   Also, anything from Fiddler on the Roof  is a winner.

What if my grandparents hadn’t left Russia?

Yiddishe Cup had a second Russian drummer, Vladimir, who forgot his sticks and used dowel rods fashioned from a windowshade. That was his only gig with us.


Irwin Weinberger and I occasionally play gigs at a Russian senior drop-in center.  The Russians seem to like us.   We’ve learned “Kalinka” and “Katyusha.”

Russians, they remind me of what I could have been: dead (via Nazis, etc.) or a bigger partier.

March 11, 2015   6 Comments


I had a show biz lunch at Corky & Lenny’s.  The lunch was Hollywood-style, not Hollywood.  Bert Dragin, the owner of a furniture store chain, was looking for a movie script.  (This was in 1980. C&L’s was still at Cedar Center.)  Dragin said to me, “I’ve got money.  Everybody will talk to me in L.A.  Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He suggested I write a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta.  Not my thing, sorry.

Dragin sold his Name Brand Furniture stores and moved to Hollywood to make movies.  He produced Suburbia (1983), and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988).

I wrote a screenplay, The Flamer, about a bar mitzvah party where several kids got burned to death by playing with sterno.  [This paragraph is fiction.  The rest is true.]

Dragin ran a tab at Corky & Lenny’s, which he probably paid monthly. He acted in his TV ads for the furniture store.  “You heard of Erotic Salad?” he said. “It’s got a soft-X rating.”

“No.”  That’s as close as I got to Hollywood.

March 4, 2015   6 Comments


ski caps

If you need to lose something, lose a ski cap.

I retraced my steps on Taylor Road, looking for my ski cap.  Nobody picks up a used ski cap.  But somebody did.

My wife lost a ski cap the day before.

I like ski caps to be almost weightless.  I lost a lightweight ski cap on Taylor Road.

My next ski cap will be a bright color, in case I drop it in the snow again.  The biggest problem with a dropped ski cap: it makes no noise.

This one is longer: “Harvard and Cleveland” for Belt Magazine about my Harvard connections.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Locals, Nighttown tonight (7 p.m. Feb. 25) for the Schmotown Revue by the Klezmer Guy Trio.  This happens about every two years, so don’t miss this show.  $10.  216-795-0550.  Social commentary and plumbing tips, plus klezmer, soul and jazz standards.

February 25, 2015   6 Comments


People say I’m a good businessman.  Why?  Because I’m not around.  Gone — outta here — is a sign of brilliance, particularly in Cleveland in February.

I’m not in Arizona, California or Florida.  I’m in Mexico.  I’m in a pueblo just south of Mexico City.  (I’d rather not say exactly where.)

I invest; that’s what I do, even on vacation.  I own a tube hotel/spa.  (I do excellent foot massages.)  My tube hotel is old sewer pipes:

And I analyze the Mexican market for fun.  Educated Mexicans are often snobs; when I raised the price on my tube hotel to $50 a night, the rich Mexicans came.  Lower than $50, nobody showed up.

I own half interest in a tortilla school, too.  Tourists make tortillas and tamales.  I freeze their products and sell the extra at the local market. Rule one: El que no transa, no avanza.  (If you don’t cheat, you don’t advance.)

My most successful business is WCs — bathrooms.  I charge 5 pesos (40 cents) a piss. Everybody urinates, am I right?  Am I right?  I keep my toilets USA tidy.  Everybody likes that.

When my friends in Cleveland write, I say, “You don’t want to come here.  This is Mexico: Montezuma’s revenge, stray dogs, narcotraficos.”  My friends stay away.  That’s good!

The locals seem to like me — or at least put up with me. I attend  the town hall meetings, and on fiesta days I pass out brooms, mops and small coins — piss money.

Stream it.

This is a fake profile.

Locals, come to Nighttown next Wednesday, Feb. 25.  7 p.m.  The Klezmer Guy Trio. $10.  One-stop shopping for Aretha’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” klezmer and prose blurts.  Make a reservation. It was pretty full the last time we did this show (2013). 216-795-0550.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

February 18, 2015   3 Comments


Howard Metzenbaum was the big name in my father’s generation.  Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator.  My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland.  My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living in Cleveland.  The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271.  The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded.  My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons).  I don’t know why my mother went to apartment living from a colonial in South Euclid.  She was a gardener, and then suddenly she was  doing tomatoes in pots on her Mark IV balcony.  My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used.  Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise.  Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down.  Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village.  These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building.  I did.  I visited a friend who bought a condo in Three Village.  Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008 — and this was 2014.  The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger (among others).  Some of the condos were 7,500 square feet.

Maltz, Mandel, Ratner . . . Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that.  If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew, and have read this far, please explain.

Buzz.  Come in.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

The Klezmer Guy Trio performs at Nighttown, 7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 25.  An evening of social commentary, plumbing tips and music. $10. 216-795-0550.   Alan Douglass, piano and vocals.  Tamar Gray, vocals.  Klezmer, soul and standards.  I’ll do prose blurts and play clarinet. 

February 11, 2015   7 Comments


Trumpeter Kenny Terry and his band played for tourists on Jackson Square in New Orleans.  I went back to my hotel room, got my axe, and — heads-up, Kenny — here I come!

Kenny Terry, trumpet, 2014

Kenny Terry, trumpet, 2014

Kenny Terry said, “Where you from, Kansas?”  Then he announced to the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest from . . . Cleveland!”   We did a Bb blues.  I managed, but I didn’t project; I had a thin sound, at least for outdoors.  Kenny said to me, “You got to play with some balls!”  That hurt.  I said, “I have this cheap plastic reed!”

The word in New Orleans is, If you’re loud, you’re loved. (Phil Frazier, Rebirth.)

Kenny Terry called “What a Wonderful World” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” — tunes I actually knew.  A man danced with me.  (I kept playing.)  He was Dr. Love, a street performer.  No, I don’t have a video or pic of any of this.  The photo above is from the internet.  My wife and family were off somewhere.  But I do have a video of me playing with a gospel singer down the street:

New Orleans was like KlezKamp, except it was trad jazz and funky brass bands everywhere.  I saw four terrific clarinetists in two blocks.  One was Doreen Ketchens.  I said to her, “I saw you on Treme in the airport scene.  I told my wife you weren’t playing in that.”  Doreen said she was playing.  I said, “The main actor — the trombone player — wasn’t playing.  He’s from The Wire.”  Doreen explained that a real trombonist played the music off-camera while the actor faked it.

By Central Grocery, New Orleans, clarinetist Ricky Paulin played, and even asked my musician son, Jack, to sit in on tambourine (after my prompting).  My son said no thanks. When is Jack going to learn?   Ricky Paulin’s dad played with Kid Ory, Jack!  I’m not afraid to talk to musicians.  That’s the thing about musicians, they’re all approachable.*

*Exception: Miles Davis.

Other busking stories are “Playing Rome” (9/3/14) and “Down on the Corner”  (5/5/10).  “Busking” is an American English word now.  Everybody in New Orleans uses it.

Also, please check out “Live, From the Nursing Home,” my op-ed in the New York Times (Monday, Feb. 2).  Illustration by Joao Fazenda:

nyt ill by joao fizenda  2_215

February 4, 2015   6 Comments


Welcome, New York Times readers.

This blog is primarily an amusing word pile, with illustrations by Ralph Solonitz.  There are also videos and the occasional Yiddishe Cup tune.  No recipes!

The Times has published six of my op-eds lately.

bad gigMost of my stuff is about music and real estate.  But here’s one more about nursing homes — about when I almost got the hook at a nursing-home gig.  Click Bad Gig.

Here’s a previous NYT op-ed about my mom: “Love and Junk Food.”

If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get a fresh post every Wednesday morning.  (Sign up in the right-hand column.)

My band, Yiddishe Cup, plays all over.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’ve played in 19 states and Canada.  Missouri plus Kansas, six times.  What?

This month some of us are doing shows in Cleveland Heights.  Convenient for us.  How about for you?  Where do you live?  Seriously, write in.  The person who lives the furthest from Cleveland wins an award.  Not sure what.

Gigi’s,  7 p.m. tomorrow (Tues. Feb. 3), Cleveland Hts.
Bert Stratton & Irwin Weinberger play standards and klezmer.

Nighttown,  7 p.m.Wed., Feb 25, Cleveland Hts.
An evening of social commentary, plumbing tips and music.
Klezmer Guy Trio (Tamar Gray, Alan Douglass and Bert.)  Prose, standards, Motown and klezmer.

Lastly, here’s a post about Yiddishe Cup’s show in New York City, in keeping with the thank-you-NYT theme . . .


Yiddishe Cup played New York. We rented a van at LaGuardia Airport and drove to a hotel in Elmhurst, Queens, which was like Cleveland except a lot more Asians. The hotel was between a transmission shop and a Burger King.


New York, New York

We played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.  Who knows why. Maybe we got the gig because no East Coast band was doing klezmer comedy like us.

In Brooklyn — on our way to the gig — I saw a fender bender. The driver called out, “Would you be a witness?”

“No, I’m from Ohio,” I said.

My musician buddies wondered: Why the schmuck-itude and the ‘I’m from Ohio’?

Here’s why:  I was daydreaming about our imminent “Midwest Yids Blow NY Lids” headline in the New York Post.  Maybe a Post reporter was hiding in our van to write us up.  Also, I was preoccupied with not denting our ride — a 15-passenger rental van.  I was weaving through very dense borough traffic, and the last thing I wanted, right before showtime, was to talk about dents with cops and witnesses.

We did Catskill comedy tunes at the concert. The audience — primarily AKs — loved us.  I thought we were going to play for young people.  Aren’t there a lot of young people in Brooklyn?  Yes.  But they were not at our show.  And no reporter showed up, even though a New York Jewish Week critic had written: “Yiddishe Cup is a band that was made for a hip Jewish New York audience.  It’s a wildly funny amalgam of Mickey Katz, Spike Jones, PDQ Bach and straight-ahead klezmer.”


“Think of that — American Jews who have never been to Brooklyn.” — New York Jewish Week

The crowd was mostly elderly Flatbush residents.  I brought out some 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards and gave the audience a quiz:

What was Duke Snider’s real first name?

pee-wee-reese-1957What was Pee Wee Reese’s real first name?

What was Al Walker’s nickname?

The audience got every answer right.  One man even guessed Duke Snider’s height correctly (6-1). [Answers: Edwin Snider, Harold Reese, Dixie Walker.]

I talked about Cleveland.  I told the crowd I had gone to high school with Eric Carmen of the Raspberries.  That’s what New Yorkers wanted to hear — who I went to high school with. New Yorkers like to say “I went to Sheepshead Bay with Larry David” or “I went to Eramus with Sedaka.”  If they don’t say that often, they feel like Midwesterners.

We did  New York our way. Next stop, Columbus, Ohio.

Listen here to the comedy tunes we played in New York.

This post, “Hick Yids Blow NY Lids,” originally ran 5/4/11.  The Brooklyn concert was in 2006.

February 1, 2015   6 Comments


My French connection is Samy Hochmic, a Parisian Jew who mostly wears a French beret or English cap, but the last time I saw him he had on an American baseball cap.  All his berets were dirty, he said.  Besides, he wanted to display his fondness for America:

rock your world cap  samy

(“Rock Your World,” Rock Hall.)

Samy Hochmic, 2014, Paris. (Photo by Eric Schreiber)

Samy Hochmic, 2014, Paris
(Photo by Eric Schreiber)

He wore the “Rock Your World” cap to my daughter’s wedding (2013).  Major fashion faux pas — that hat.  When Samy left the wedding, he said, “Drop me a line.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.  Did he want a postcard?  (Samy doesn’t do email.)

Samy and I go back to 1974, when he got my name off the ride board at Case Western Reserve, and we drove to New York.  Samy had interviewed Bellow in Chicago for his Sorbonne thesis.  Samy spoke an idiosyncratic English: “I don’t have a red cent” . . . “Shall we go?”  Samy liked the Midwest for its standard American accent.

Samy’s parents had been Polish Jewish immigrants, rounded up by the Nazis at the Paris Velodrome.  Samy was raised by farmers for money during the war.  He was a foster child after the war.  A distant cousin in Canada offered to adopt him, but Samy’s French foster parents wouldn’t let him go.  Samy trained as a tailor, then an English teacher. He made aliyah to Israel in 1975 and stayed five years.  The Israelis didn’t take to a Frenchman teaching English, he said.  Also, Samy didn’t like the brusqueness of the Israelis; he railed against the “Levantine mentality” — Israelis not lining up at bus stops and pushing too much.

If you visit Paris and want to meet Samy, let me know.  Your treat, s’il vous plait, but if he wears the “Rock Your World” cap, make him pay!

Last year in Paris, Samy was trapped in a synagogue for several hours while anti-Semites rampaged outside.

The Bert & Irwin Show: Irwin Weinberger and I play
7-9 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 3)  at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights.   We’ll play mostly American standards and some klezmer.  (Guitar/vocals + clarinet.)

January 28, 2015   3 Comments


Billy the welder and I were at the same table at a friend’s daughter’s wedding.  We both wanted to eat; that’s what we had in common.  He smoked a lot.  Every time I turned around, he was out smoking.  Billy asked me about my job.  He himself repaired forklifts.  I said my dad started a landlord biz, and I also mentioned my band.

“So you inherited your father’s business?”

“I like to say I wasn’t born on third base.  I was born at shortstop.”

Billy, holding a beer and looking somewhat glassy-eyed, said, “My dad was a drug addict and felon.  He left me when I was six. He went to Florida.”

Another wedding guest — a truck driver — chimed in, “My dad paid the bills but wasn’t there for me.”

A woman walked by.  She said, “You guys having a man talk?”

“No,” I said, “we’re talking about our fathers. I’ve never had a conversation like this before.”

Billy said, “Let’s see your hands.” I held out my hands. “You ever work with your hands?”

“I play clarinet!”

soft hands

“I cook,” he said. “I’ll have you over and we’ll cook.”

“Sounds good.”

“Don’t put me on! I’m serious.”

“I’m not putting you on.”

He put his arm around my shoulder.  It was either that or punching me.  He didn’t like me.




A lot of bands wear all black. Yiddishe Cup doesn’t do that. It’s too East Coast trendy.

In Toronto I once saw the Flying Bulgars in what looked like clown suits.

Yiddishe Cup dresses somewhere between the Flying Bulgars and black.

We have five looks:

Steve Ostrow, Cleveland Heights, 2001

Steve Ostrow
Cleveland Heights, 2001

1. The tux with colorful hand-sewn lapels. The downside to this look is everybody knows when we’re shnorring at the hors d’oeuvres table at weddings because we don’t blend in.  All-black tuxes would make us invisible.

2. Blue undertaker suit. Keeps the focus off us and on the bar mitzvah boy.

3. Solid-colored shirt with colorful tie.  This is our middle-school art teacher look.

4. Hawaiian-style shirt. A costume designer made these shirts. A real show-biz shirt. When we played 13 gigs in six days in Florida, the quick-dry feature came in handy.

Irwin Weinberger (L), Bert Stratton and Don Friedman.  Boca, 2011.

Irwin Weinberger (L), Bert Stratton and Don Friedman
Boca Raton, 2011

Yes, Florida in January . . . I wish Yiddishe Cup would land another run like that. But the mega-condo booker in Florida won’t re-book us.

Was it our lyrics?

You judge.  Yiddishe Cup’s “Tumbalalaika”:

What can grow, grow without rain?
“This,” says our singer, grabbing his crotch.

What can burn, burn for many years?
“Hemorrhoids,” our singer says.

A comedian, Stu, was our last booker in Florida. I should have known he was bad news because his email address was Suntanstu@, and his website had photos of him with Engelbert Humperdinck.  Stu’s idea of a joke was not paying for our sound (speakers, mics) and backline (instrumental rental) after I bought airplane tickets to his showcase in Florida.

One final Yiddishe Cup look:

Alan Douglass. Middletown, Ohio 2008

Alan Douglass
Middletown, Ohio 2008

5. T-shirt with the Yiddishe Cup logo.  We wear these when we play summer park gigs.

Our singer, Irwin Weinberger, wears the Yiddishe Cup T-shirt around town too. The rest of us don’t wear our shirts much off stage. Do you see LeBron in a Cavs jersey at the grocery store?

The cool thing is to wear shirts from festivals you played. At KlezKamp I saw a Klezmer Conservatory Band musician in a Montreal Jazz Festival T-shirt.  I wear T-shirts from the Concert of Colors (Detroit) and CityFolk (Dayton, Ohio).

I saw Sklamberg, the Klezmactic’s singer, in a Klezmatics T-shirt at KlezKamp.

On second thought, maybe Irwin Weinberger is cool.

“Klez Clothes” is a rerun (from 1/13/10). There were no photos in the original post.

January 21, 2015   3 Comments


I lived in Cleveland for 23 years, then left.  It was a great place to raise a family, and it had wonderful cultural attractions, but I couldn’t take the weather anymore.  When I wrecked my knee, I couldn’t even ski anymore.

dont be mad at me 2Now I sit on my patio, listen to the birds, and look at the blue sky every single day of the year.  The temple out here is about the size of a CVS.  Nothing fancy.  I’m in Wandering Jews — a group at my temple.  We go into the mountains and pray once a month.  I never could stand the mega-temples back in Cleveland.

My friends in Cleveland expected me to die there, I think.  No thanks!  I have no roots in that town.  I moved to Cleveland for a job in 1992 . Before that, we lived in Columbus.  Before that, Philadelphia.  I was born in Albany.

Please don’t be mad at me for leaving.  Visit me here.  We’ll sit on the patio and listen to the birds.  By the way, what’s the temperature?

This is a fake profile.  If I fooled you, sorry.  I didn’t move.

January 14, 2015   2 Comments


The boiler died at a building I own.  I called the repair company, D.B. Johnsen Co., who said try somebody else.  Stack Heating & Cooling came out. Stack was no bargain. Stack was like going to 10 dentists.

Then I had a second boiler go bad, down the street.  Stack’s proposal on boiler #2 was $5950 for two sections of new boiler, to replace a corner that had corroded. I was thinking zero for that corner, Stack.  The boiler had worked perfectly well a few minutes ago.  Now it was cracked.  I had budgeted zero for #2.  I had put everything into boiler #1.  I called a couple guys for quotes.  They were all busy.  Stack himself was very busy.  It was cold out.  He said, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” So was I.  (Stack and I are the same age).

Madison Plumbing did the job and screwed up. It cost me a few grand extra.

Then a third boiler went down.  This was a couple months later.  Stack said, “I want to prepare you. Eleven burners are shot. That boiler is older than me. ” Again with the age, Stack?  This boiler was carboning up and sooty.  “I’ll try to save it.”

“Do that,” I said. “Thanks.”

Stack called again: “I have bad news.” 

I asked him to knock $500 off the price if I didn’t get a second quote.  Agreed.  I wrote the tenants they could buy a space heater at Home Depot and take $50 off their rent until the heat went on.  I recommended a Polonis convection oil-filled space heater. About a third of the tenants opted for the free space heater. One tenant even added $37 for a comforter.

My bill: $38,350 (boiler #3).  Stacked against me.


CYA footnote: Stack is expensive but he’s very, very good.

January 7, 2015   6 Comments


I was a rock star of sorts in the 1990s.  My band was on MTV and charted #53 on the Billboard Hot 100.  But we had a problem; nobody wanted to be a sideman, everyone wanted to be the star.  I wrote the songs but everybody thought they were the star.  I was the star!

rock star #53

Now I mostly do solo gigs and give private piano lessons.  I don’t play klezmer.  I knew you’d ask.  I like klezmer, but I don’t play it.  I like the blues — all kinds.   The Jewish blues, by the way, is all about the flatted 2nd.  Last shabbes my rabbi’s sermon was “What I Learned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”  The rabbi must have seen 20 Feet from Stardom recently.  He said you’ve got to balance your sideman role with your star-tripping goals.  Joseph was a star-tripper, and his brother Judah played in Joseph’s band as a sideman, not as a star-tripper.

You don’t know the story of Joseph?  Look it up.

The rabbi asked for comments from the congregation.  He likes to work the room. I chimed in about my old band.  The worshipers loved my comments!  Most people didn’t even know I was a rocker.  I talked about my record deals and my A-hole managers.  I even said “A-hole.”

I’m a sideman.  I accept that now.  Deep breath.  Om.

We’re all sidemen.  But, hey, don’t forget this: I hit #53 on the Billboard Hot 100, June 21, 1995, with “My Afterlife is After Yours.”

This is a fake profile.

Yiddishe Cup plays tonight (Wed. 12/31) at Akron (Ohio) First Night, 9:30 p.m., John S. Knight Convention Center.

December 31, 2014   3 Comments


KlezKamp shuts down this month after 30 annual get-togethers. This post looks at KlezKamp 1990.  KlezKamp was a huge positive influence on many musicians.

Sid Beckerman was a living legend of klez clarinet. I followed him around KlezKamp — the  annual music conference in the Catskills.

Sid talked to me!  Big deal?  Yes, it was.  Sid was paid staff, and I was a payer, as in student/customer/fawner, and paid staff was on a higher plane, hard to corner.  They had a lot of demands on their time.

Sid Beckerman, 1998 photo.

Sid Beckerman, 1998

Sid had no ego, according to Washington clarinetist Rodney Brooks, another student.  “Sid was never a star,” Rodney explained.  Sid was “discovered” by klez revivalists, and made his first record at 70.  (He died at 88 in 2007.)

Sid had a handwritten tune-book called “the sheets,” as in “sheet music.”  Sid’s guardian of “the sheets” was pianist Pete Sokolow (b. 1940), who had transcribed the tunes for Sid.

The most popular tune in the collection was “SB7,” which meant “Sid Beckerman tune #7.”  Dave Tarras had originally recorded it as “Di Zilberne Chasene” (The Silver Wedding).  Yiddishe Cup recorded it as “40A.”

Pete Sokolow, 2007

Pete Sokolow, 2007

At KlezKamp I developed a strategy for getting the sheets from Pete Sokolow.  First, I gave Pete a xerox of an obscure 1938 magazine article about “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn,” hoping to get in Pete’s good graces. Sokolow, stuffing the magazine article in his pocket, said, “The sheets?  What sheets?  I’m so busy now.  I’m working up an arrangement for fifteen people.  What did Sid say?”

I hadn’t asked Sid.  So I went to Sid and offered him $20 for the sheets.  Sid said, “For what?  What transcriptions?”

Funny, all the clarinetists from D.C. knew the SB tunes. So I badgered Rodney, the dean of D.C. clarinetists, some more.  I hocked him.  He finally admitted he had the sheets.  “You can xerox them,” he said.  “But don’t say you got them from me.  Somebody might take umbrage.”

A year later, 1991, the sheets came out as the Klezmer Plus! Folio by Tara Publications.  Everybody could buy them.  Sokolow and Sid were just protecting their investments.

The above post is a rerun.  A version ran as “The Sheets,” 10/7/09.   Also, please check out the first comment (recycled from ’09) by Steven Greenman, about Sid Beckerman.


OK, you want to read something new . . .


I yelled at my wife today. Nothing new there. She forgot to buy milk.

I need a Bud. My neighbor — a guy from Germany — says Bud is the best beer in America.

I drink too much, I know that. Anymore, I’m surprised my wife puts up with me. My kids left. They won’t even talk to me.

I know I should cut back. I’d like to get down to a case a week. I had a friend who drank himself to death at 42. He put away a case a day — 24 brewskis. That’s ridiculous even by my standards. Four beers a day is what I’m shooting for.

I need a beer!

This is a fake profile.

Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio) New Year’s Eve, 9:30 p.m. John S. Knight Convention Center. Booze-free event.

Did somebody say free booze?

December 24, 2014   3 Comments


Eric Krasner came to Cleveland to make a movie about Mickey Katz, the Cleveland-born klezmer clarinetist and comedian.

Eric wanted to see where Mickey was born, and where Mickey’s wife grew up, and maybe where Mickey’s father’s tailor shop had been.  I said to Eric, “I’m not a filmmaker — and I don’t want to tell you what to do — but if you want another opinion, I don’t think you should show every place Mickey took a shit.”

We went to the old Euclid Avenue Temple (now Liberty Hill Baptist Church), where Mickey was married in 1930.  Eric — teasing me — filmed the men’s room and said, “This is where Mickey urinated after his wedding.”

mickey katz 1959Eric asked why Katz (1909-1985) isn’t more acclaimed in his hometown.

For one thing, nobody has ever heard of Mickey Katz!  Mickey is not LeBron, or Superman, or Pekar, or Bob Hope. (All local boys.)  Katz was Joel Grey’s father and Jennifer Grey’s grandfather.

Eric and I went to Glenville, an inner-city neighborhood where Mickey spent his teenage years. We found the Glenville Hall of Fame. Mickey didn’t have a plaque.

One aspect of Eric’s movie — my guess here — is, why doesn’t Mickey have a plaque of some sort — a street, a “Mickey Katz Way” — in his hometown?

mickey katzEric found Mickey’s birthplace near E. 51 and Woodland by the Ohio Food terminal.  Sawtell Court — the actual street where Mickey was born — doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a grassy field. Eric drew a sign, “Birthplace of Mickey Katz 1909,” and put it on a fence.

Eric drove all the way from Maryland to film that sign.  I hope the movie, minus the urinal, happens.

Yiddishe Cup plays New Year’s Eve at Akron (Ohio) First Night.  9:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center.

December 17, 2014   6 Comments


I’ve been managing bands for years, mostly as a hobby. I know something about marketing, booking and touring. I won’t discuss that stuff here, other than to say the most important thing nowadays is DIY: publicity stunts, cameo appearances at strip joints, stealth holographic projections of your band onto billboards at night.

vulf peckI have this group, Vulfpeck, who I manage informally. They do the opposite of whatever I tell them. Like I say send a press release to the New York Times, and they don’t.  They don’t know what a press release is.  They’re all about social media.  I’m about social too; hello, my name is  _________.

Vulfpeck, they have no idea how well I manage them. I lead a second life through those guys, at no charge to them. Right now two of them are in L.A., one is in Ann Arbor, and the other is at a racino in Toledo.  I follow them.  (I know where you are too, and I’m not pleased.)

Check out this terrific Vulfpeck vid, “Christmas in L.A.” Came out yesterday. Get in on the ground floor. Has a dog in it:

I tell Vulfpeck to sell themselves.  Get a publicist for starters.  Naturally, they don’t. They generate fuzz through Facebook and Twitter.  I’m old school; they’re New School.  I need help from the Urban Dictionary.  (“Fuzz” means “hipster buzz” — to me.)

I’m Vulfpeck’s manager. They don’t know it.  If they did, they’d fire me.

This is a fake profile.  Or at least 51 percent fake.

December 10, 2014   6 Comments


I envy you. That’s not good, but I can’t help myself. I envy a lot of people.  For instance, I envy the patients at the Cleveland Clinic. They are among the 1,700 sickest people in the city.

The Clinic is the fourth-best hospital in the country, says US News & World Report. I envy that number-4 ranking.  I’d like to be fourth best at something. Fourth shows mastery and modesty.

I want to walk through the Clinic in a white lab coat.

I just did . . .

Palliative Care, Desk C-20. People are dying and feeling OK about that.  I envy that “feeling OK” part.  I take drugs but don’t feel that good.

Pain Management, H-70. The patients there don’t know what pain is!  My car has terrible static on 91.5 FM — the jazz station. That’s pain.  What’s your BMI?  I’m 23.33 kg/m2.  My pulse is 53 —  slightly higher than a dead man’s.  If your pulse is lower than mine — and you’re not dead — I envy you.

Dermatology, G-50.  The doctor took full-body naked pics of me.  TMI.

Eye Clinic, I-20.  Floaters to my left, floaters to my right.  Nice.  At the eye-clinic parking lot, I told the toll attendant, “You’ve got the most dangerous job in the world, because half the people coming out of here are blind.”

“Don’t you know it,” he said. “This is the third time we’ve fixed the turnstile this month.”  I envy him the crashes he sees.

Envy Clinic, NV-50.  I’m here for a while.  Will report back in a month.

Fake profile.

December 3, 2014   1 Comment


I was at a brunch where all the men wore Ohio State apparel.  That in itself was not unusual; I know a lot of Ohio State fans who do brunch, but the host at this brunch was particularly Bucks-nuts; he would not let anybody into his house with Michigan gear on.

ohio state v michiganI didn’t have any on.

I’m not that big a football fan. I’m a Michigan graduate but I wish Ohio State all the best — most of the time. I like it when Michigan is winning, but this year the team is horrible, so let Ohio State go all the way.

Yiddishe Cup had a trumpet player — a sub — who played in the Ohio State marching band. He played a luncheon with Yiddishe Cup, and the OSU-Michigan game (originally scheduled for 3 pm) went on at noon, so I gave the musician leeway on the bandstand; I let him periodically watch the Bucks on a TV in a corner. The other guys in the band thought I was too accommodating. They didn’t
understand . . .

Take 1962: OSU versus Northwestern, homecoming.  Before the game, my dad and I went to a reunion luncheon.  My dad had on a Class of ’38 name tag. I don’t know what the name tag read; my father changed his name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941. The theme for the fraternity floats in 1962 may have been “Peanuts.”  My dad knew the words to “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater.  My dad never knew the words to any song!

My dad and I went to about a half dozen Ohio State homecomings. I liked Long’s Bookstore for sweatshirts.  Charbert’s for hamburgers.  We checked out the floats on fraternity row.  My dad wanted to show me the medical school.

The Bucks: Tom Matte, Warfield, Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson.

If Michigan doesn’t win it all (and it ain’t going to this year), let Ohio State.

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium.  (Julia came on our first homecoming outing -- 1959,)

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium. (My mother went on our first homecoming outing, 1959.)

November 26, 2014   2 Comments


Mr. Shuck said the tenant above him was running a big fan on the floor and keeping him up all night.  It was November.  Why would anybody have a fan on?

I thought, “Shuck is out of work and has too much time on his hands.  Forget about it.”

Shuck called: “I was pressing my arms over my ears so hard to block the noise, it took the muscle off the bone by my upper arm.”

“Have you tried earplugs?” I said.

“I had tubes in my ears as a child.  I’m not sticking anything foreign in my ears.”

“I’ll look into this.”

“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep over this. Look into this!”

I called the tenant upstairs.  She did have a fan — a box fan on the floor. She said she would place it higher off the floor.  I said, “You need physical space between the fan and the floor.” Matter settled.

Not settled. Shuck called again. “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above me.  I’m having palpitations right fucking now!  I’m calling the police.  Your manager won’t do anything.  I’m having a heart attack.  If I die, it’s on your head.”  (A Browns party was going on upstairs.)

Shuck lived.  He called and said his bathtub was backed up, and he mentioned the manager had threatened to kill him.

I said, “I’ll get the plumber on the bathtub right away. I’ll call the plumber.”

“The plumber is in my apartment right now!” Shuck said.  “He woke me up.  I have contusions on my legs and have had to sponge bathe for four weeks because the tub didn’t work.”

“Four weeks?” I said.

“Also, your manager stole money from me.”

“How much?”

“Five dollars.”

Five dollars?  Why so little?  “Your tub was down four weeks?” I said.

“Your manager tried to kill me.”

I know.  OK.  “When?”

“Three years ago. She tried to force me to drink a beer.  I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

“We’ll have the bathtub fixed right away.”

“Somebody is tampering with my mailbox.  That’s a federal offense.”

There was a noisy fan above Shuck.

“Shuck” is a pseudonym.

November 19, 2014   3 Comments