THE COOLEST GUY
IN YIDDISHE CUP
Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, Don Friedman, also goes by the name Donny Mann (as in “Shelly Manne” and “Herbie Mann” — fellow yids).
“Donny Mann” started back in pre-history — the 1970s. “Jan Paderewski gave me the name when we were playing five nights a week at the Blue Fox Restaurant in 1974,” Don said. “Talk about wiseguys. It was all Mafia guys at the bar.”
“Jan Paderewski?” I said.
“Yes. His parents were musicians. They played a lot in Little Italy.”
Jan Paderewski’s great, great uncle was the Jan Paderewski, the renowned Polish pianist and statesman. Jan Paderewski of Cleveland was a stand-up comedian, restaurant owner and pianist. He played light classical and standards. Jan Paderewski of Cleveland died in 2000.
Donny Mann attended Berklee in 1961, when Berklee was just one building with a couple hundred students. Donny dropped out. Back then that was the idea: drop out and play gigs. Still is.
Donny Mann’s first pro gig was pre-Berklee, age 16, in his hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania. Don played with the Stardusters (piano, accordion, alto and drums) every Saturday night at the American Legion Hall. Tunes like “Poinciana” and “Moonlight in Vermont.”
“I heard ‘The House of Blue Lights’ in the late 1950s,” Don said. “That drove me nuts. I loved it.”
Don worked in a hat store in Erie. “My first encounter with retail,” he said. Don eventually worked in a men’s clothing store in Cleveland. And he listened to jazz — Gene Krupa through Tony Williams. “I shied away from rock and roll. It was primitive to me.”
“I wasn’t crazy about New York,” Don said. “Cleveland was the big-time, being from Erie. In the 1950s and 1960s, Cleveland was the big-time — look out, Jimmy Brown! In Erie, I rooted for the Browns, not the Steelers.”
Don worked at Rogers Drums in Cleveland, starting in 1965. He sold drums and musical-accessory chazerai to mom-and-pop music stores, and he gigged at night. “Every other word I said was hip. ‘I’m hip, man.’ I used that too much. I try not to say it nowadays, but it’s hard.”
Don hung out at the Theatrical Restaurant. “I was never in the section where you ordered the expensive steaks,” Don said. “I sat at the bar.” He sat behind the featured drummer, behind the bandstand — the best place to watch the drummers’ hands and feet. He saw Cozy Cole, Papa Jo Jones (“He wore white socks”) and Louie Belson, among others.
“Bob McKee, the house drummer, played a blue onyx Rogers. All the drummers loved that set. It had Swiv-O-Matic hardware. The Japanese copied it. Bobby still has the set in his basement. He’s in his eighties now.
“Philly Joe Jones was at the Theatrical, too. He was more modern than Papa Jo. Buddy Rich was there. Gino too. Gino was a bit past his prime – past his fame.”
“Gino who?” I said.
“Gene Krupa. Everybody called him Gino, at least among friends.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome the coolest guy (by a narrow margin) in Yiddishe Cup: the one and only Don-ny Man-n!