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.



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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1 Ari Davidow { 09.01.10 at 10:03 am }

I have that Kleveland Klezmorim CD, Casbah. In the early days of the KlezmerShack, I kept insulting Steven Greenman (well, he acted insulted) when I said that I thought I remembered him from that band. He was actually part of your band at the time, I think, but who woulda thunk in those days that there were two klezmer bands to keep track of in Cleveland?

I have to go back and re-listen to that CD now. I remember the marimba, all right. One year in the Bay Area, fiddler Kaila Flexer, who used to do an annual “KlezmerFest” (correct name for her festival? who remembers?), hired an all-marimba klezmer ensemble. Traditionalists were outraged. Can’t imagine what they’d have thought of a tsimbl in those “pure to the imagined past” years.

2 MARC { 09.01.10 at 2:51 pm }

I had a solo gig last Chanukah playing for the governor of Rhode Island at the statehouse. Does that rank up there with Carnegie Hall? It was actually a Chabad Chanukah party and candle lighting.

3 "Kenny G" { 09.02.10 at 3:20 pm }

I was impressed when you played at the Rock Hall of Fame lobby. I thought you really “made it.”

As for Selker’s settling down “big-time,” S. Belvoir in Shaker Heights life might be rather tame but a street musician with a mansion – now that’s settling down with a capital “S!”

4 Steven Greenman { 09.15.10 at 10:45 am }

Aren’t you glad that I love you now? I actually did Ancona (Italy) in 2000, while I was out of the band for several years but interesting that you remember that.

Overall, I think a “career” musician needs to have the freedom to not necessarily follow the dollar, but to be able to play with multiple bands and projects, as music is his sole income. In most cases, there is not one band where a freelancer can commit to 100%, discarding everything else, and still make a full living.

My rule is to commit to the gig I first agreed to, unless “Ancona” pops up and I give ample time and notice to the first band (and find a sub).

So I regularly turn down lots of “bigger” gigs when I’m already booked. It’s only been shaky for me a couple times. One time I had a small Cleveland gig and canceled the lady to do a Yiddishe Cup gig in Detroit which I really wanted to do. The Detroit gig was great, but I still feel guilty about canceling the lady.

Another time, I had a bar mitzvah gig for a colleague of mine’s younger brother, but got called to play in San Antonio for the annual accordion festival (I played violin with an accordionist). I got permission from the mother to cancel, but the father was a lawyer and got really pissed because I had a contract.

I found them a great sub, who they loved (Norm Tischler), and later, on a trip back from Toronto made it a point to stop in Erie, PA., where they lived, to give an impromptu violin lesson to the bar mitzvah boy.

I actually found the father’s place of work and waited for him to get out of work. He then took me to their wonderful house, and I gave the kid a klezmer violin lesson. I had promised this to them when I had canceled before. This impressed the father so much, and he still loves me for it.

Another example, going the other way, happened just yesterday, when I turned down a $450 gig in Pittsburgh because I have klezmer teaching in Cleveland ($100) on the same day. I had to stick with the teaching and that commitment. So it goes both ways. Finding the best way to make a decent living and be fair to everyone at times can be a challenge.

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