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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



I look for musical yikhes (lineage/pedigree) wherever I can find it.  My grandmother played piano at a white Baptist church in Yazoo City, Mississippi.  Not bad.

This Mississippi bubbe — Ida Kassoff Zalk — had a brother, Earl Kassoff, in Cleveland.  Earl was a drummer, xylophonist and house painter.  He went by the stage name Earl Castle, and led bands in the 1930s and 1940s.


In the 1990s — when I first began looking for musical yikhes — I couldn’t find much info on Earl.  I talked to a couple relatives.  Earl didn’t leave behind sheet music or tune books.  He died in 1969.

At a Yiddishe Cup gig, an elderly musician schmoozed with me.  I asked him if he knew Earl Kassoff.  Yes, he  remembered Earl.  The schmoozer was Harold Finger, age 77.  He had made a living playing clarinet and sax during the 1930s and 1940s.

I took my tape recorder to Harold’s apartment and interviewed him. He said there were “four or five bands that got the Jewish work.”

I asked, “What bands?”  He didn’t remember the names.  “What were the most popular Jewish tunes?” I said.

He said, “The songs from the Kammen Book. That was the big thing.”

The Kammen International Dance Folio, published in 1924, is still around.  The Kammen book is to Jewish music what a sex manual is to sex. (Pianist Pete Sokolow makes this statement at most KlezKamp conventions.)


My Uncle Earl’s band did mostly “dance work” — American music, Harold said. Earl worked the downtown theaters, as well as the Golden Pheasant — a Chinese restaurant where Artie Shaw started.

Harold said he didn’t stick to the melody all the time. He did some “faking” (improvising).  Now he played clarinet with a community orchestra.  “I don’t do much jobbing anymore,” he said.  (Jobbing is gigging.)

Harold died three years after the interview.  I thought his kids might enjoy the  interview tape, from 1992, so I called a Finger relative and left a message in the mid-1990s.

I didn’t hear back.

The relative should have called!  Harold’s wife was on the tape, teasing Harold about how he loved his saxophone more than her.  Harold said, “What? I quit playing music for you!”

Michiganders, come to the Klezmer Guy show at The Ark, Ann Arbor, Feb. 15. 8 p.m. $20.  Bert Stratton on clarinet and prose, Alan Douglass on piano and vocals, Gerald Ross on ukulele and Hawaiian lap steel guitar. Prose pieces will contain words such as “Ann Arbor,” “Michigan”  and “Rudy Tomjanovich.”

More on Mississippi Ida — my bubbe — later.  Maybe not.

Yikhes update.  Check out the latest from Jack Stratton’s band, Vulfpeck.

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1 Mark Schilling { 02.07.13 at 4:27 am }

Mississippi Ida? Are you sure she wasn’t playing a little stride on the side? Hanging out at the honky tonks? I’m already imagining the album cover.

2 Seth { 02.07.13 at 12:44 pm }

Jack Strat has no fat on dat. Loved it…couldn’t the Fender guy afford a beard? I bet Jack coulda paid for one with them Jeffersons he was tossing.

Ralph’s Kammensutra was fine.

Oh, your piece was ok too

3 Garry Kanter { 02.07.13 at 8:50 pm }

re: Vulpeck video

What is the significance of the wallet on the piano?

4 Bert Stratton { 02.08.13 at 8:18 am }

To Garry Kanter:

I have no idea what the wallet on the piano means. Maybe my son Jack, the piano player, will tell us.

5 Marla Kassoff { 05.15.13 at 1:22 am }

Cool article about my grandfather Earl. One of his bands was called the Buddy Earl Band. Buddy is my dad. It took two generations until we had another musician in the family. Earl’s great grand son. Thanks Papa!

6 Owen Margolis { 05.17.13 at 7:44 am }

Very cool article. Great to learn about the Jewish music scene Cleveland in the 30’s and 40’s…especially when it involves a family member. (Buddy is my first cousin…as well as being my mentor/ hero.). I don’t know what to think about a bubbe in Yazoo City! I thought the place was famous for being comedian Jerry Clowers’ hometown…but figured there had to be more…now I know. Grits & gribbennes ? Why not?

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