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.

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.


Posts from — September 2010



Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, flies frequently for his day job as  university fundraiser.  He knows which security lines are fastest. Even if he’s flying Continental, he’ll often switch to the quicker Southwest line at Cleveland airport.

Man against the machine . . .

My Uncle Al griped about tour bus drivers in Israel who turned the air conditioning too high.

My parents had travel stories about drunken Russians on cruise ships. And I heard about haggling for a gold wine bottle in Italy. I saw the slides.

I threw out the slides.  I have one left:  my parents at The Wall in Jerusalem.  My dad had on Jack Purcells.  He was always in a hurry.

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

My dad kept a list of his purchases abroad. Here it is, abbreviated:

Rosewood carving of temple dog. Bangkok
Ceramic bells. Israel
Porcelain-in-pewter bowl. Hong Kong
Brass circular dish. Morocco
Wool flokati rug. Athens

My parents didn’t buy all that much.  No jewelry and not much clothes.  My dad left me plenty, but very little clothing. I’m not complaining.  I got  buildings.



Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played.  Sometimes I give Daniel magnet investment advice.  For instance, 10 years ago I told him to buy “Kentucky.”

It was getting on my nerves — not playing Kentucky.  Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close, to Ohio.

The conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra has played in 10 foreign countries and 29 states.  Who’s counting.

Next month Yiddishe Cup plays Connecticut — a state which isn’t even on our screen.  Is Connecticut a legitimate state?  Does it have a state bird? Connecticut seems more a township or shire than a state.

Yiddishe Cup has played Ohio, Indiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, Canada and, shortly, Connecticut.

Connecticut but no Kentucky.  Why?

Yiddishe Cup plays in Lakeville, Conn., on 10/10/10 for a wedding. Klezmer bandleaders from the Northeast will not be happy to read this.

Or maybe they won’t care.  Maybe they’ll all be in Kentucky that day.



The Greensboro Furniture Mart
is happening.

No beds except at the seedy hotel
across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint

Are we in Amsterdam?

Continental breakfast
The Corn Flakes in the Styrofoam bowl
need milk
for weight
Too late
Where’s the broom?

Musicians with instruments
at the Delta counter
“Our gig was colder than an MF,” their drummer says
“You played outside?” our singer says
The Neville Brothers’ drummer
Even the big boys freeze their pupiks.  


1 of 2 posts for 9/29/10.  Please see the post below too.

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September 29, 2010   4 Comments


Stan Ebin, a Dixieland trumpeter and radio DJ, played these tunes on WKHR-FM:

1. “Hora Staccato.”  Rafael Mendez, trumpet.  Didn’t Dave Tarras record this same tune?  [Yes.]  (Listener’s GPS location: I-90 at Lakewood/McKinley Ave.)

2. “Blues in C# Minor.” Roy Eldridge, trumpet.  (I-90 at West 117th Street by White Castle.)

3. “Lena from Palestina.”  Buffalo Ridge Jazz Band from Cincinnati.  This tune, like “Hora Staccato,” is part of the klezmer repertoire.   (There are three “C” Innerbelt exits in a row: Central, Carnegie and Chester avenues.)

4. “Bless this House.”  Four-part barbershop harmony, all on trumpet, overdubs by Roger Blackburn.  (Carnegie Avenue at East 55th Street, by the old Warner & Swasey factory, where machinists made machine tools with machine tools.)

5.”Basin Street Blues.” Louis Prima, trumpet and vocals; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet.  (Carnegie Avenue by the Cleveland Clinic banner “One of America’s Top 4 Hospitals.”  What are the other three?  Mayo Clinic, New York-Presbyterian and Johns Hopkins?  No.  Add Mass General, delete New York-Presbyterian.)

6. “I Can’t Get Started.”  Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet.  Ebin, the DJ, says, “Dizzy is stealing from Bunny Berigan.”  (Stokes Boulevard by the Baldwin Water Works Plant.)

7. “Wah-Hoo.”  Hoosier Hot Shots.  Spike Jones before there was Spike Jones. 1935.  [At the former Cleveland Heights pothole (now repaved) vortex: North Park at North Woodland.]

Two klezmer tunes, plus interesting old jazz, in a 30-minute drive from the West Side. On regular radio.  Amazing.
2 of 2 posts for 9/29/10.
Yiddishe Cup plays tonight (Wed. Sept. 29) 7 p.m., Fairmount Temple, and tomorrow (Thurs. Sept. 30) 7:15 p.m., Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 29, 2010   2 Comments


My parents stopped hanging around with friends who were getting rich.  One of my dad’s childhood buddies was building shopping centers.  That man was off the list. Toby, my father, was not going to eat out at fancy restaurants.

My parents mostly socialized with self-employed business people: the hardware store owner, the sewing machine guy and the shoe store guy.

The sewing machine guy, Alex Kozak, sold record albums as well as sewing machines.  (Appliance store owners used to sell records.)  He was a World War II Red Army veteran — a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Nazis and fought with the Russians.  I borrowed his huge cavalry boots for my high school Canterbury Tales presentation.  Mr. Kozak was big — about one and a half Isaac Babels.  When I was in college, Mr. Kozak sold me Bechet of New Orleans and Be-Bop Era, RCA Victor Vintage Series.

Alex Kozak (right), 1962, age 43, with friend Ellis Powell

Alex Kozak (right), 1962, age 43, with friend Ellis Powell

My parents often socialized with Holocaust survivors.  My dad liked the men; many knew baseball and were for the most part no-nonsense.  What was there to talk about — the good old days?   Keep it short. My dad liked that.


The hardest Yiddishe Cup gigs were the Holocaust survivors’ luncheons.  (Those luncheons are rare now.)  The crowd wouldn’t pay attention.  They would kibitz through the music.

The gigs weren’t supposed to be wallpaper (background music). We were doing a show.  Pay attention, please!

Another thing: we got paid peanuts.  “Just a short program for the survivors.”  You couldn’t say no, and you couldn’t get mad at the kibitzers either. What exactly was a “program”?  Whatever the hostess said.

Most every Jewish baby boomer in Cleveland grew up with Holocaust survivors, unless he lived in Shaker Heights.  And even in Shaker, there were probably a few DPs (Displaced Persons) in the double houses.

I had a classmate, Gary (not his real name), who re-told his parents’ Nazi horrors to the local newspaper.  This was in the 1960s — pre-“Holocaust,” the term. Gary’s father worked at a kosher poultry market.  Gary was a super Jew.  He often stayed home for obscure (to me) Jewish holidays.  Some of the Jewish kids teased him when he came back.  (The goys were oblivious.)

I copied Gary’s style.  I wrote a letter to the Cleveland Press protesting the first U.S. Christmas stamp with a religious symbol (Madonna and child), 1966. I said the new stamp violated the separation of church and state.  I got letters back.  One reader said, “Go to Vietnam where men are men and not homosexual like you.” That got me to write more letters.

I wrote about Poland expelling its last Jews in 1968 . . . What would the Poles do when they ran out of Jews?  That, too, got some play.

I vied with Gary for champion of Jewish teenage letter writers.  All I had to do was write “Jew,” and I would get half-baked, vitriolic feedback.  I enjoyed yelling “Jew” in the newspaper.  I had been through so little.  I wanted to experience World War II.  Then go home and eat Jell-O.

Coda:  At a recent Yiddishe Cup concert in Detroit, I saw Sewing Machine Guy’s daughter Veronica for the first time in about 40 years. She said her nephew had the cavalry boots now — the ones Mr. Kozak, an officer, wore as he rode into Prague with the Soviets in 1945.

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 22, 2010   4 Comments



Pittsburgh is where terrific walk-on musicians play with Yiddishe Cup.  We had a Duquesne University guitar teacher, Kenny Karsh, sit in at wedding.  How many jazz musicians know “Yossel, Yossel” and Chusen Kale Mazel Tov”?  He did.

At another Pittsburgh gig, the bride’s uncle sang.  He requested the key of Ab.  Nobody but a pro asks for Ab.  He sang “Unchained Melody,” a slow song, even though the bride had emailed “NO SLOW SONGS.”  But what could she do, the singer was her uncle.  He was a hit.  (Brides don’t know what they want.)  He was in a Chicago society band.

Pittsburgh’s JCC has an outdoor clock with Hebrew letters on it.  Pittsburghers rebuilt their JCC in Squirrel Hill, where it had previously been.  In Cleveland, no Jewish institution would rebuild in the same place.  Twenty-five years and out.  That’s the rule in Cleveland.  Move it.

Pittsburgh JCC

Pittsburgh JCC

When the Cleveland Heights JCC moved to Beachwood in 1985, my dad, Toby, bought a plaque for the new cloakroom. The plaque, which was no bigger than a business envelope, cost several thousand dollars.

Nobody noticed the plaque.

Several years later, the Beachwood JCC expanded, and Toby’s cloakroom was in the heart of the action, right next to the new auditorium.

My dad could always pick property.

Except in New Mexico.  That was out of Toby’s wheelhouse.  Toby foundered whenever he left Ohio. He bought a piece of land near Albuquerque that went nowhere.

Lot for sale.  Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Lot for sale. Rio Rancho, New Mexico

He also did a deal on a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Fla., and lost money because he wouldn’t — or didn’t know how to — play ball with the crooked city administrators.

A relative, Lefty, sold my father the New Mexico land in 1965.  Lefty was a Jew with a tattoo.  Lefty lost a lot of money for a lot of people.

Toby didn’t hold the deal against Lefty.  The land is still there. It’s not going anywhere.

I saw Lefty at gigs over the years.  He didn’t go by Lefty any more.  He got into basement waterproofing business and made a lot of money.

Forget the Land of Enchantment . . .

Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh is Yiddishe Cup’s San Francisco — hilly, terrific neighborhoods, great museums and a lot of culture.  “I Left My Heart in Pittsburgh.”  Write it.



Something important happens at weddings, unlike at bar mitzvah parties, where you’re just attending a family reunion. Pass the family reunion T-shirts.

The ultimate low-stress gig: a 50th wedding anniversary party.  Play whatever you want. Everybody is glad to be there, period.

For weddings, the bandleader sometimes gets mounds of emails and communiqués beforehand.  The bride doesn’t want the band to play anything slow, nothing from Broadway, and she wants to hear her Bollywood MP3s at break.  Also, don’t announce the newlyweds’ names, but if you must, say “Jen and Zach.”

“I’m NOT taking his last name!!” the bride emails.

Not every bride is hands-on, though.  Some say, “We know Yiddishe Cup has done this many, many times.  You know what works.  We trust you.”  These are the best brides.

Here’s what works: skipping the Bollywood music, strolling table-to-table, varying the musical styles and inviting guests to sit in with the band.  Toasts work too — in chunks.  No more than three toasts in a row.

And having the wedding in Pittsburgh.  Preferably at the downtown Westin.  The staff there feeds Yiddishe Cup before the guests.  Maybe because we’re important out-of-town musicians.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29,  Fairmount Temple, and  7:15 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 15, 2010   5 Comments


I sometimes celebrate the High Holidays a week or two before the real ones. I have the shul almost to myself.  The upside: no annoying people.

However, this plan defeats one of the purposes of the High Holidays– hanging out with large numbers of Yidn. My rabbi says if you attend the real High Holidays– and shul in general– you’ll feel less lonely.

I sometimes get agitated on Rosh Hashanah morning because there is so much commotion and noise in the shul.  Then the rabbi sermonizes about loneliness and community, saying, “Hell is other people according to Sartre, but what’s the alternative– sitting at home in your underwear watching reruns?”  Point taken.

In the sanctuary, I see a doc who gave me a colonoscopy.  I see, several rows over, a PhD scientist who is so anti-religious his seat needs an ejection button; his wife forced him to come.  The guy next to me, a real estate broker, says, “How’s occupancies?”

“Commercial, bad.  Residential, OK,” I say.  I don’t mind some biz talk on yuntif. No big deal.

I see a weight-loss doc in the loges (the elevated seating around the perimeter of the sanctuary). Her picture is occasionally in the Cleveland Plain Dealer next to the word “obesity.”   She’s in excellent shape.

A Jew visiting from New York gives me greetings from a New Rochelle cousin.  Nice.

A couple people say hi to me because of the band.  I don’t know their names.

After services, a worshipper asks if I remember him. Yes, I know him.   A few years ago Yiddishe Cup played his son’s bar mitzvah.  He is happy I remember him.

“You have to come over for shabbes,” he says.  “And you won’t have to bring your clarinet.”


Happy New Year.
1 of 2 posts for 9/8/10.  Please see the post below too.

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September 8, 2010   1 Comment


Two-thirds of the art in my house is by Irwin Weinberger, Yiddishe Cup’s singer.  Irwin is also a painter and middle-school art teacher.

He did a portrait of my kids 19 years ago.  I thought the kids — those pipsqueaks — were cute.  But their pipsqueak phase dragged on for years; I would stare at that painting and say, “Grow up already!”  Schlepping kids crosstown to gymnastics meets was not fun.  Schlepping the youngest child to an 8 a.m. hockey game in Parma Heights was not fun.  Sitting through my daughter’s swim meets was not entirely pleasant.  (The diving part was pleasant, but the swimming races — which she had nothing to do with — weren’t fun.)

<em> "Pipsqueaks." .</em>

As it turned out, the whole thing — childrearing — lasted about two weeks.

Yiddishe Cup has been in existence 21 years, and that, too, has felt like two weeks. One day — back in 1989 — we were playing a Cleveland Heights street fair, and the next day– 21 years later– we were playing a Cleveland Heights street fair.*  What’s with that?

We — the Yiddishe Cup musicians — enjoy the short drive to work.  We are in our own backyard, kind of  like the working musicians in Las Vegas or Branson, Mo.  The downside to playing Cleveland a lot is everybody has heard us a million times.

Make it new.  Or go nuts.

The newest Yiddishe Cup recruit, our drummer, has been with us 12 years.  We have new music, but not new guys.

I rarely put the musicians’ names front and center.  It’s all about Team Yiddishe Cup.  What if a Yiddishe Cup “star” leaves? That would mess up the band’s publicity.

The band’s PR photos are like my family portrait.  Same guys, basically.  Why change the photos?  We look the same as we did in the 1990s.  I think so.  It’s the same guys.

Yiddishe Cup, 1998. An outtake. The arrow coming out of Irwin's head messed up this shot.  (Photo by Charles J. Mintz)

Yiddishe Cup, 1998. An outtake. The arrow in Irwin's head messed up this shot. (Photo by Charles J. Mintz)

* Footnote: Yiddishe Cup did not play a Cleveland Heights street fair in 2010. However, the band did play Parade the Circle in University Circle — close to, but not in, Cleveland Heights. And last year the band played for the outdoor movie/concert night at Coventry (Cleveland Heights).


2 of 2 posts for 9/8/10.

L’shana tovah. (Happy New Year.)

Yiddishe Cup is at Fairmount Temple  Wed. Sept 29 and Park Synagogue Thurs. Sept. 30 for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 8, 2010   4 Comments


When the Kleveland Klezmorim disbanded in 1990, bandleader Greg Selker said, “I’ll miss the bliss but not the arguing with bookers and musicians.”

He became an executive headhunter.

“I’ll Miss the Bliss.” Somebody should write that tune.

My musical bliss happens most often when I hear a new instrument with Yiddishe Cup — like when Steve Ostrow first played trombone with us; or Walt Mahovlich added accordion; or Gerald Ross, Hawaiian guitar; or Shawn Fink sang “Joe and Paul.”

Or when I had Donato’s pizza with pineapple.

Selker didn’t like arguing with band mates.  Who does? Luckily I haven’t had that many arguments.  The worst was when a musician told me to get lost, or words to that effect, when I wanted him to commit to additional Yiddishe Cup rehearsals.

Professional musicians — guys who do only music — get very annoyed if they perceive the bandleader is trying to own them.  (“Own” is a sideman’s word.  Bandleaders say “hire.”)

Career musicians demand their independence and right to follow the dollar.  The bandleader can only request first call, which means the sideman has to check with the bandleader before taking a gig with band number two.  That sometimes gets tricky.  For instance, when Yiddishe Cup’s first call is a nursing home and the sideman’s second call is the Ancona (Italy) Jewish festival.

Selker quit too early.  He could have played Ancona and other exotic festivals; the Kleveland Klezmorim were one of the first klez revival, klez-fusion bands.  Selker slept at Frank London’s New York apartment, which in klezmer terms is equal to the Lincoln bedroom.  (London is a founder of the Klezmatics.)

Kleveland Klezmorim, 1985

Kleveland Klezmorim, 1985

Another guest at London’s apartment was Yiddishe Cup’s keyboardist, Alan Douglass, an original member of the Kleveland Klezmorim.  Alan slept at London’s when the Kleveland Klezmorim played Carnegie Hall . . . Carnegie Hall Cinema.  The Kleveland Klezmorim accompanied silent Laurel and Hardy shorts in New York in 1985.

(A former Yiddishe Cup drummer played the Hollywood Bowl . . . parking lot.  Yiddishe Cup played Severance Hall
. . . lobby.)

I took private lessons from Selker in 1987, which was a hassle because Selker was so footloose back then: It’s spring, Bert.  I need to reschedule. I’m going for a walk in the Metroparks. I had arranged for babysitting for my kids. (Selker eventually had three boys and settled down big-time.)

Greg “I’ll Miss the Bliss” Selker . . .

At Yiddishe Cup concerts our first several years, I often thanked Selker from the bandstand.  He told me to give it up. It was hard.  No Selker, no Yiddishe Cup.


Alan Douglass sent me an email a year ago containing “cool ancient [klezmer] history,” as he called it.

Alan said the Kleveland Klezmorim drove all night from Cleveland to New York for the Carnegie Hall gig, winding up in a filthy New Jersey hotel. “Beer bottles on the window sills inside the room,” Alan said.

The band reconnoitered the next day on the steps of the Museum of Modern Art.  “We played on the sidewalk,” Alan said. “Greg got a comeuppance from a local marimbist playing down the street.  She was a Philharmonic percussionist and a monster — barely five feet.”

The band played three shows on Saturday and four on Sunday at the Carnegie Hall Cinema.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired,” Alan said.  “We drove back home on Monday. I made $50.”
Yiddishe Cup is in Motown this Sat. night, Sept. 4.  Temple Israel, W. Bloomfield, Mich.  8:30 p.m.  Free.

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September 1, 2010   4 Comments