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 am the Sol Hiccup — maybe — of klezmer shows in Cleveland.  I am a volunteer on a Workmen’s Circle committee that has brought in Kapelye, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Theodore Bikel, Chava Alberstein, the Klezmatics, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Shtreiml, Beyond the Pale, Susan Hoffman Watts and many more.

It’s not my money; it’s the Workmen’s Circle’s concert endowment earnings.

Many committee members don’t know much about Jewish music, so my opinion carries weight. Sometimes my picks work, sometimes not.

Anything experimental, feh.  Too much kvitching (squeaking) on the clarinet, feh.  Hebrew songs — no thanks, it’s a Yiddish concert. Obscure Yiddish songs — no thanks.

Last year the committee brought in Yiddishe Cup (from a distance of  7,920 feet).  The band played mainstream klezmer and did Mickey Katz–style Yinglish comedy.

A committee member said the band didn’t play enough klezmer instrumentals.  He said, “That’s what the Russians wanted to hear. They came to hear klezmer music, not  . . .” He paused.  “Ech, you were OK.”  Not a bad review, considering this critic  — a 94-year-old Yiddishist — often favored “horrible,” “not Jewish enough,” and “jazz – why jazz?”

Giora Feidman, the renowned Israeli clarinetist, played all instrumentals one year.  That was nisht gut (no good).  No vocals.

Where was the road to a good program? “Call Zalmen in New York,” according to one veteran committee member.  Call Zalmen Mlotek.

Zalman is not 94 years old, even though his name is.  Zalman is a baby-boomer pianist, theater director, and macher in the klezmer world.  He knows just about every quality Yiddish performer.

Zalman’s job, from the concert committee’s standpoint, was to forestall repertoire malfunctions.  The committee, which included several lawyers, stipulated performers should deliver “at least 70 percent Yiddish content.”  No more all-instrumental shows or predominately Hebrew and English song fests.

For instance, the headliner in 2007 had counted “Di Grine Kusine” (The Greenhorn Cousin) 100 percent Yiddish content, even though his group’s version was mostly instrumental jazz solos. When I told him he hadn’t fulfilled his Yiddish quota, he said, “Why are you telling me this the minute I walk off stage!”

He had a point. I should have waited.  But his pianist had taken more solos, on the clock, than his Yiddish vocalist.

I was only doing my job.  And I was in trouble. I was coming off a bad year; I had recommended an “experimental” act the year before.  I was losing my Sol Hiccup credibility.

We brought in a Canadian band, Beyond the Pale.  They covered the bases, mixing klezmer instrumentals and Yiddish songs. I was redeemed for a while.

Then a long-time committee member quit.  She said there wasn’t enough Yiddish, and hadn’t been enough mama-loshn (Yiddish/mother tongue) for more than a decade.

Azoy geyt es. (So it goes.)

A majority of the Yiddish-speaking audience was in the cemetery along with the committee’s top pick, Bruce Alder, a terrific Yiddish song-and-dance man who had died in 2008.  Our concert ushers — World War II Jewish War Vets — were also with Bruce.

I played a party for Jewish war vets. They were Vietnam guys, looking just like World War II vets, except breathing. The vets liked “Old Time Rock and Roll.”  I couldn’t see them ushering a klezmer concert.

This summer’s Yiddish concert is Sunday, featuring “New Voices of the Yiddish Stage,” an ad hoc musical variety show from Folksbiene — Zalmen Mlotek’s theater in New York.  The musicians are in their twenties and thirties.  Clarinetist Michael Winograd alone is worth the price of admission. 

Aside to the  “New Voices”  performers: Jazz is a four-letter word west of the Hudson.

The 32nd annual Yiddish Concert in the Park is 3 p.m. Sun. (June 27) at Cain Park, Evans Amphitheater, Cleveland Heights.  Free admission.  The concert is a co-production of the Workmen’s Circle and the City of  Cleveland Heights.

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1 zach { 06.23.10 at 9:42 am }

Shesh.. God forbid, you try to inject some variety into people’s musical lives. I guess there’s just no way to make a group of elderly Jews happy! (Though, my experience with playing different kinds of music to Jewish audiences has been a bit different — they’ve been reasonably accepting).

And +1 to Michael Winograd. I really must see more of his shows here in NY.

2 Harvey { 06.24.10 at 3:39 pm }

Reminds me of when I heard an elderly lady in a shul admonish a chazzan who used a newer melody this way: “Don’t take my childhood away.” Understandable that a drum solo might aggravate someone trying to access their Yiddish warm fuzzies. They’ve shown up for a sound-specific nostalgia, not to broaden their musical horizons. The problem is simultaneously entertaining anyone else who showed up.

3 Gerald Ross { 06.25.10 at 10:48 am }

I played the Yiddish Concert in the Park with you guys last year. Everyone clapped, smiled and nodded their heads for my Hawaiian steel guitar music, but did I really go over with the old guard?

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