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 has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.



I liked KlezKamp, the klezmer convention, because it wasn’t just Mahjong Jews.  (Mahjong Jews don’t camp and, for that matter, can’t imagine camping.)

KlezKamp, in its first years, was in a ratty old Catskills hotel.  Going there was like camping indoors. Many bathrooms had plungers.  Heat was erratic.  The halls smelled of disinfectant.

Most of the male campers looked like they had just crawled out of sleeping bags.  They looked like Abbie Hoffman or Eugene Levy.  No other choices.  These guys were professors, shrinks, music students and Jewish hippie farmers from New England.

Four-hundred twenty-five people, total — half of whom were musicians.  Twenty clarinet players in one room.  We had to audition.  Sid Beckerman, musician and clarinet arbiter, had rachmones (pity) on us.  Everybody sounded “nice” to Sid.  I wound up in mid-level.

I took clarinet classes, and also heard a professor named Brown, from Brown, talk about Brown’s, the resort.  I heard Leon Schwartz, a legendary violinist, reminisce about gypsies.  He said the gypsies in his Bukovina village had had it worse than the Jews.  “The Jews had the stores,” he said.

I went to KlezKamp for more than a decade.

At first I couldn’t get my wife, Alice, to go.  We had young kids.

One year I took the two oldest kids and went without her.  I spent a lot of time in the game room and swimming pool that year.  That chlorine vat/pool was slightly bigger than a half dollar.  You had to coat yourself with skin conditioner or get a rash.  Thankfully, several lesbian musicians helped me with the babysitting.

The kids and I went to New York City afterward.  My daughter,
then 5, made me carry her everywhere.  We weren’t going too far.  We went to Popeye’s on Times Square for dinner.

When we returned home to Cleveland, my wife said at the doorway, “The kids look anemic!”

But we had beans and rice and lemonade at Popeye’s, Alice.  (The kids hadn’t been too crazy about the borscht and herring at KlezKamp.)

Alice never trusted me with food vis-a -vis the kids.

So the following year she came with us.  All five of us.  Alice was a folk dancer and exercise nut; however, Jews at klezmer conventions think exercise is something in an etude book.  Alice found an indoor tennis court which was so dusty the balls turned black after one set.  It was like playing in a parking garage.  We went skiing on Christmas.  I thought the slopes would be empty.  No, a lot of Asians and Jews from New York City were there.

We sneaked over to The Pines resort for ice skating.  That place was a staging area for the Mahjong Jew takeover of the world.  We had a good time.  There were interesting trivia games in the lobby.   I’ve got nothing against middle-class Jews.  I am one 51 weeks out of the year.

My family kept going back to KlezKamp.  Every Christmas.  Ikh khulem fun a vaysn nitl.  (I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.)  And every year Alice would complain: “I can’t believe we’re going to KlezKamp again!”

Finally, after 12 years, the brainwashing was complete; the kids knew more Yiddish than just oy vey (woe is me) and farklempt (choked up); and Alice could have, by then, taught the dance classes.  And I had met all the old klez guys: Max Epstein, Felix Fibich, Danny Rubenstein, Velvel “Billy” Pasternak . . .

Attention must be paid.  Mas . . . Paul Pincus, Leon Schwartz, Ray Musiker, Ben Bazyler, Sid Beckerman, German “That’s Herman in Russian” Goldenshteyn, Howie Leess, Elaine Hoffman Watts.

The majority are now dead.

I had paid my dues — family-rate.

And I was through auditioning.

KlezKamp’s 25th encampment is next week.  Did you know Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, was at the first KlezKamp, 1985?  Less than 100 people were there.  They planned to take over the (klezmer) world, and they did.

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1 Bill Jones { 12.16.09 at 9:59 am }

Bert, thanks for the memories. Next Hanuka how about commenting on the new Hanuka music, at least by klezmer bands, e.g., Hip Hop Hanuka — Klezmatics. [joke.]

Strange to know that Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to the melodies the Klezmatics married to them.

But then Woody was just trying to fit in with the NY Jewish machatonim.

2 Ted { 12.16.09 at 11:00 am }

That was a great trip–I remember it fondly. First time in NYC. We stayed, I believe, at the Omni on 52nd Street. Smallest hotel room I had ever seen in my life up to that point.

At least I can understand my civil procedure professor when he says gornisht helfen. Maybe it will help me get a better grade. Probably not. He was shocked when I asked if I could nosh on the pretzels in his office, though.

Exercise, etude book. That’s funny.

3 Sherry Mayrent { 12.16.09 at 12:25 pm }

Hey, Bert — I was there with you that first year (1987) — and there were 35 of us clarinetists auditioning, not 20!! It was a great time. It still is.

4 Gerald Ross { 12.16.09 at 12:27 pm }

Klez Kamp is held during Christmas week? Is this 1. Some kind of symbolic protest to the world-wide obsession with Christmas or 2. Do the organizers get the resort for a cheaper rate during that time. I’m betting on number 2.

5 MARC { 12.16.09 at 2:32 pm }


My first year was your last year. I remember eating a meal at a table with you and your family.

6 Bert { 12.18.09 at 9:17 am }

To Sherry Mayrent [associate director of KlezKamp]:

Re:1987, the archives from The Challah Fame, Cleveland, indicate about 20 clarinetists in the room. For 1988, 23 clarinetists. (Maybe there were more clarinetists lurking in other rooms.)

Look it up — the official numbers. You’ve got nothing better to do this week, Sherry. (Joke.)

And while we’re on the subject of numbers, what’s with KlezKamp’s Web site stating several times that next week’s KlezKamp is the 25th anniversary?

Next week’s gathering is the 25th annual KlezKamp but not the 25th anniversary.

KlezKamp #1 was in 1985. Anniversary and annual are not interchangeable. If you don’t believe me, use your fingers, all you clarinet players.

7 elaine hoffman watts { 12.19.09 at 9:20 am }

Hey, I am still alive and still playing klezmer drums and teaching a great class at KlezKamp called GIRLS DON’T PLAY DRUMS.

elaine hoffman watts

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