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.


Category — Kinder, Di


Ken Goldberg, a friend, came over for shabbes dinner and brought not only dessert, but an eyewear catalog.

The catalog was from Ben Silver, a store in Charleston, South Carolina . . . “Tasteful and refined eyewear for men and women.”

Ken said his favorite Cleveland eyeglass shop is Park Opticians, the fashionable and expensive store near my house.

I ran into Susannah Heschel — the daughter of  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — at a wedding; she said she was going to Park Opticians the next day.  Susannah has many frames.  She lives in New Hampshire.  She is a scholar at an Ivy League school.  She shops at Park Opticians.

Susannah Heschel

My frames adjuster at Park Opticians is Mickey.  Keep your hands off my glasses if you’re not Mickey!

My daughter, Lucy, bumped into my glasses when I gave her a horsy-back ride.  (Lucy was 4 at the time.)  My glasses wouldn’t fit right after that.  I went to the headache center at the Cleveland Clinic.  Either my eyeglass frames were askew, or I was.

B. Stratton, 1973

I like clear frames, aka “crystal.”  I’ve been a crystal wearer for years.  My younger son, Jack, jacked a pair of my crystals.  What’s with that, son?  (I have extra crystals lying around the house.)

I usually unveil a new pair of crystals after visiting Les Rosenberg, an optometrist who works out of a box, 20/20 Eyewear, on the West Side.

Les doesn’t care that I don’t buy his frames.  Les makes a living, with or without my purchases.  Les is simply happy to see a fellow yidl and old high school buddy.

Jack Stratton w/ child (seltzer machine) and crystals, 2011

Les didn’t hang out with  the smart guys in high school.  Les was a goof-off.  But a smart goof-off.  Les dated, did little homework, and went to Ohio State and partied.  He eventually studied, I guess.  He is a doctor.

At 20/20 Eyewear, Les gives me the latest info on the popular “kids” from high school, and I give him the latest on aging eggheads like Marvin and Howard.  Les says, “I was as smart as those guys!”

Yes, you were, Les.  And you were a goof-off.

Les is not a goof-off  now.  He’s a skilled professional, and bonus, he’s empathetic.  He does not criticize my crystals or my supplier, Park Opticians.

Life with tortoiseshells is not an option.  Les knows that.  Goldberg, my shabbes guest, knows that too.

I once had ultra-light rimless frames.  The frames were so flimsy they fell off  my head whenever I put on a pullover sweater.  Ski caps, another big problem.  The ultra-lights were Swiss; you’d think they’d be good.

One word:



Lucy Stratton at the White House, 2011.  Her eyeglasses are partially wood.  (The White House hired a Jew to decorate the Christmas tree.  I hope she put a Jewish star on top.)



’Tis the season to be . . .


Giant Eagle asked me to play at its pre-Passover shopping extravaganza last Sunday.  Giant Eagle, headquartered in Pittsburgh, called me in Cleveland and said they needed two musicians at Legacy Village, the “lifestyle” shopping center in suburban Cleveland.

I’m anti-“lifestyle” centers.  And I don’t like the phrase “playing in the aisles.” The Giant Eagle booking agent said, “We can pay X dollars for this.”

I said, “X + 50 percent.”

She said she’d get back to me.  She didn’t.

She hired my competitors.  Actually, two musician friends of mine.

The Sunday morning of my non-gig, I said to my wife, “I could be at Giant Eagle right now playing.”  She was impressed.  She likes Giant Eagle.  (I’m more a Heinen’s supermarket guy.)

I ran into Irwin Weinberger from my band, Yiddishe Cup.  I said, “Right now we could be playing Giant Eagle.”

He shrugged and said, “We don’t have anything to prove at this point in our careers.  Now if you said you just priced us out of a gig in Fuerth, Germany, that’s a different story. But not Giant Eagle.”

The musicians with the grocery-store gig worked Facebook hard that morning.  They elicited 10 comments about how cool it must be to play a grocery.

Ten Comments on Facebook is commanding.  Why had I quoted such a high price to that Pittsburgh agent?

And I probably could have gotten a free box of matzo, too.

Later, I read the eleventh-or-so Facebook commandment.  It was from a Giant Eagle musician: “Sure wish the agent who hired us could have notified Giant Eagle that we were playing.  Sorry to all those who made it out to see us.  We are very disappointed.”

What?   Did they make you guys play over the Muzak?  Did people throw Tam-Tams at you?  Did a kid spill grape juice on your violin?

I suddenly felt pretty good about the gig.

Happy Passover.

The next day, my first question to the musician was “Are you getting paid?”

“Yes, we are getting paid in full,” he said. “The store manager, who wasn’t the main manager, didn’t know we were scheduled.  The main manager wasn’t there.  So we went home.”

The check is coming by giant eagle from Pittsburgh.

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April 4, 2012   11 Comments


Cleveland is in the middle of the cereal belt.  Shredded Wheat of Niagara Falls, New York, is to the east, and to the west is Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan.

Shredded Wheat moved from Niagara Falls years ago, but the cereal belt remains.  Cleveland is the buckle.

Clevelander Marty Gitlin just published a cereal encyclopedia, The Great American Cereal Book  (Abrams Images), featuring “hundreds of images of vintage cereal boxes and spokes-characters — Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle, Pop, and Lucky the Leprechaun.”

Test-marketed in Cleveland

I had a prospective store tenant who wanted to open a cereal store.  He opened down the street and went under almost immediately.  He was Cereal Central, aka Cerealicious.   Nobody in Cleveland wanted to eat cereal in a store.  (He also had a store in Columbus near Ohio State.  Apparently,  OSU students were willing to eat cereal in a restaurant.)

Most people like to eat cereal alone and not talk about it.  That’s my guess.

In my temple bulletin, no bar mitzvah kid’s profile reads: “Jacob is interested in cereal.”  More often it’s “Morgan enjoys  Sudoku and chatting online, and is a member of the recycling club.”

What is Morgan’s cereal?

Marty Gitlin and I want to know.


Musicians — at least one — eat cereal at home after late-night gigs.  Musicians can’t fall asleep after gigs.  Musicians’ heads are filled with fruit loops of “Simon Tov” and “Hava Nagilah.”  (Klezmer musicians’ heads, that is.)

Shredded wheat choices at 1 a.m.: Barbara’s shredded wheat or Quaker shredded wheat.  (Shredded wheat is not trademarkable.)  I mix Barbara’s with Autumn Harvest (Kashi).

I wrote an “advice column” for the Ann Arbor Observer (February 2012).  Check it out: “Hit the Road, Jack . . . A dad’s advice.”   

Click here to hear what junior (Jack) is up to today:  “Louder Naftule.”  The latest in klezmer.

Drummer Jack Stratton, backed by clarinetists Merlin Shepherd and Lucy Stratton. KlezKamp, 1993. (Photo by Al Winn)

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February 8, 2012   10 Comments


If I didn’t lead a klezmer band, I might not hire one.  Yiddishe Cup might be too Jewish for me.

“Too Jewish” means anything — or anybody — more Jewish than oneself.  Example: Franz Rosenzweig, a German Jewish intellectual, said nothing Jewish — no matter how far out — was alien to him.  I tried Franz’s approach: I davened (prayed) with the yeshiva buchers in Boro Park, Brooklyn; drank schnapps at Telshe Yeshiva, Cleveland; and soaked in the mikvah (ritual bath) in Cleveland Heights.  Also, I read Rabbi Sherman Wine’s God-is-dead books.  I covered a lot of humentashn (bases).

Would I hire a klezmer band?


I did.  I hired Yiddishe Cup three times — for my kids’ b’nai mitzvot parties.  (And I got a decent price.)

1. For my daughter’s bat mitzvah party, I also hired a troupe of hospital-therapy dogs for the cocktail hour.

2. For my younger son, we had a DJ party, plus the klez band party.  My son organized the DJ party.  He hired the DJ — himself.

3. My older son had a trivia quiz, plus the klezmer band. That worked out well.  He wound up on Jeopardy!

Yiddishe Cup plays, at minimum, 15 minutes of Jewish music, and we use a dance leader, so everybody knows what to do.

Naturally, the goys like us best.  Jews have hang-ups.

I know about Jews and hang-ups.  I have belonged to more shuls than the Pope.  I was Reform, then Conservative, then Reform, and now Conservative again.

My friends and relatives don’t always hire Yiddishe Cup.  But I go to their parties and have a good time.  The weddings are enjoyable; the bar mitzvahs are sometimes difficult.  The DJ and his “dance facilitators” can be loud and obnoxious.  The DJ announces, “The young adults will gather on the dance floor for a group photo.”

Get in the picture yourself, DJ.  You look 18.   And the “young adults” are not young adults, they’re animals.  Stow the glow sticks.  Bring out the cattle prods.

The optimal level of Jewishness is Yiddishe Cup with therapy dogs.

Yiddishe Cup plays  The Ark 8 p.m. Sat (Feb.4), Ann Arbor, Mich.   Here is an unrepresentative video from last year’s  show:

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February 1, 2012   11 Comments


I was back from Las Vegas, attending a Shaker Heights brunch.  Several people asked, “Did you play?”

Did Yiddishe Cup play Vegas?

I wish Yiddishe Cup had played Vegas.

I had been in Las Vegas on vacation with my wife, Alice, and older son, Teddy.   I had played blackjack.

Monaco Motel, Vegas, 1962.  Stayed there w/ my parents and sister.  Caught Red Skelton's show at the Sands.

Monaco Motel. The Strattons stayed here in '62. Caught Red Skelton at the Sands nearby.

That was my second trip to Vegas. My first trip was in 1962, when a Vegas waitress predicted I (then-12 years old) would return to Nevada for my honeymoon.  That waitress was very wrong.

I prefer outdoorsy vacations.

On my latest trip I won $7.50 at blackjack at the Jokers Wild, then quit.  I could hardly breathe in the Jokers Wild –- or in any other Nevada casino — because of the cigarette smoke.  I hung around the casino parking lot, waiting for Teddy and Alice to finish up.

My favorite Las Vegas attraction is the Red Rock Canyon, which is similar to Zion National Park, but only 17 miles from Vegas.

The Red Rock performs daily in an original revue that is F’n Crazy!   Be a Part of  It!  Best Show in Vegas for the Past 900 Years!


Scouting locations for a Las Vegas School of Klezmer

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December 28, 2011   5 Comments


At Yiddishe Cup gigs, I sometimes send photos to my daughter, Lucy.  Like of centerpieces or lighting.  I get the photos from my bandmates — some of whom are camera happy.

Lucy is an event planner in Chicago.

I was at a gig in Hunting Valley, Ohio, where the backyard tent was draped with strings of tiny candles.  I thought that was noteworthy.

I sent  this:

My daughter answered “pretty.”  One word.  Was that like “whatever”?

How about the white vinyl dance floor?  Workers were on their knees scrubbing that white dance floor.  My daughter wasn’t too impressed with that either:

Lucy knows about white flooring.  In Los Angeles she covered a parking deck with white carpet.   She bought 400 shoe-booties at Home Depot for workers, so they wouldn’t dirty the carpet before the guests arrived.

I didn’t get any photos of the horses at the Hunting Valley wedding.  The horses — in a stable by the party tent — went berserk during the upbeat recessional.  The horses, however, liked the stately and lyrical  “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (Evening of the Roses) — the processional.

Lucy used to ride horses.  Why didn’t anybody in the band get a pic of the horses?   Lucy would have been impressed with horses, I think.

These are the gigs Lucy works:

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November 9, 2011   4 Comments


The “shul with a pool” movement peaked in the 1920s.  Major synagogues in large Eastern and Midwest cities sometimes built sanctuaries with pools attached.   My shul — at its previous location (East105th Street, Cleveland) — had an indoor pool.  It’s still there, the pool and the shul (now Cory United Methodist Church).

The church has famous Jews’ names carved into the frieze. Hillel, Maimonides, Rashi . . .


Jews and swimming. It’s in the Talmud somewhere: A Jew must learn to swim.

I started my serious swimming — my lap swimming– at the Mayfield JCC in 1995.  I thought I was going to jail; that dingy pool had no natural light.  Russian women in bathing caps and Russian guys in Black Sea briefs bumped into me in the lap lane.

For serenity, I tried the newer JCC in Beachwood.  But that didn’t solve my problem. A doctor/lap swimmer there thought he was playing water polo.  He would bump and splash me.  I liked the guy but not in the water.


My favorite indoor lap pool is at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago.  I’ve only been there once, but I’d like to go back.  My daughter, Lucy, a renowned globe-trotting event planner, lined up the Intercontinental-with-pool for me.

Johnny Weissmuller trained at the Chicago Intercontinental (formerly a Shriners’ athletic club and hotel).  It’s an historic landmark.johnny-weismuller-best-at-intercontinental-hotel-pool

The most beautiful part of the Chi pool: three signs that read laps only.  The pool’s fourth lane has an open swim sign. Usually it’s the other way around: Three lap lanes for horsing around and one for swimmers.

I politely asked a young dad and his bobbing kid to leave my lap lane.  They did.  Then other bobbing dorks encroached.  Couldn’t these kids read laps only? There was no lifeguard.  I muttered, “What a disaster.”

The young dad, overhearing me, said, “The sun is out! You’re alive!  Sorry if we’re ruining your swimming.”

The dad did not understand lap swimming.  He did not realize lap swimming is a quasi-religious experience.  Lap swimming is a combination of mediating, praying, thinking and just zoning out.  A lap swimmer needs a shul in a pool.

The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by me on Sunday. Click here to read it.  The article was about love, junk food and Jewish tongue.

Why didn’t the Times use this Ralph Solonitz illustration?


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May 11, 2011   11 Comments


My father, Toby, was a lot like his mother.  One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”  (Don’t you be a chump.)  Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building.  She was nobody’s sucker.

Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy).  She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother).   I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet.  She could eat. She had sugar diabetes.   Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964).  Circa 1951.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964). Circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from.  I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko.  She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.”  That was dead wrong, but it made sense.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us.  At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance).  Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher.  Keeping kosher was too expensive.  Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.

Bub, circa 1904.

Bub, circa 1904.

At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again.  My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat?  It’s not kosher!”

Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil.  1964

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil. 1964

“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?”  said Delaware Lil.

“Yes,” said Washington Lil.

“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.

My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.)   Mild laughter.  My mom was the peace-maker.

And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time.  Years.

. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl.  The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names.  That was the trick.  And there were several Grodziskos.

Mili Seiger 1939

Mili Seiger 1939

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.”  It was from cousin Rachela Seiger.  It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?”  On the flip side was a photo of  Rachela’s  sister Mili.

The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives.  There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews.  Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.  Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust.  Each about a third.  These are my people.


This story was cross-posted on  The Forward, online, last month.

Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”

Footnote . . .  Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:


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March 23, 2011   10 Comments



Go to a restaurant — in this case, Corky & Lenny’s in Cleveland. And listen to a klezmer history lecture while eating.

It’s only $45.

We will celebrate the Cleveland klezmer sound.  Legend has it, this sound came together at I-271 and Chagrin Boulevard, to become one of the most combustible klezmer sounds the world has ever seen.  alices-restaurantsAlice Stratton (née Shustick), author of Alice’s Restaurants (1981), will share her recipes and Cleveland food discoveries. This could be an amazing Cleveland klezmer meal.

March 10.   The Supper-charged Klezmer Dinner

Don Hermann’s Pickles from Garrettsville, Ohio.
Gefilte fish pâté
Falafel balls from the Falafel Queen, Alice Stratton

Challah from the Park Synagogue preschool

Precision matzo ball soup.  Cleveland Punch & Die Co.

Smokin’ salmon.  Pot Sauce Williams

Alice’s farfel (egg barley) and mushrooms

Star of David lollipops from the Chocolate Emporium

Mr. Meltzer’s line of Seltzer Boy! products

–Make reservations now for this fictional March 10 event–


Future Klezmer Dinner Project events:

4/16    Klezmer Goy

Alan Douglass — an original member of both the Kleveland Klezmorim and Yiddishe Cup — talks about his life as Klezmer Goy.  He’ll recite the bruchas (blessings) over both the wine and cheese to show he knows some Hebrew (like Italians on the Lower East Side used to know a bisl Yiddish).

The meal: rugelach, mandelbroit, hamentashen, honey cake and Cinnebuns.

5/3  Fear in Loadin’

Irwin Weinberger, Mr. Jewish Music Ohio, talks about eating at gigs.  He shows how a pro musician loads a plate. eating-utensils Trick number one: Put lettuce on top of everything, so the host thinks you’re eating only salad.

The meal: tschav (cream of sorrel soup), creamed herring on shmura (handmade) matzo, turkey pot pie, and a wedding cake made from real butter, real vanilla extract and real waiter’s eggs.

6/13  Die Kleveland

Greg Selker, founder of the Kleveland Klezmorim, speaks about the early days of the group.  He’ll show 1985 videos from Booksellers, Pavilion Mall, Beachwood, Ohio.

Flyer, circa 1985, designed by Alan Douglass

Flyer, circa 1985, designed by Alan Douglass

Booksellers was probably the first suburban mall bookstore in America with a café.

The meal: pickled herring with mustard sauce; Jewish fried chicken; butter beans and gelato.

7/17  Pies

Jack Stratton, 2008.  (Photo by Shay Spaniola)

Jack Stratton, 2008. (Photo by Shay Spaniola)

Jack Stratton, Yiddishe Cup’s alternate drummer, demonstrates the Jewish rhythm method.  Think “in the pocket.” In the groove.  Be down with the knish, the Jewish pie. Wear one on shabbes.  Also, be down with the empanada pie (Latin music).  And appreciate the pasty, the miner’s pie from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It’s all music.

The meal: cold borscht, tsimmes (fruit stew), Mr. Brisket soaked in Coke, albondigas (Sephardic meatballs) and butter kuchen.

8/15  The Happy Bagel

Daniel Ducoff, a.k.a. Sir Dancelot, talks about happy times — how to make money from dancing at bar mitzvah parties and weddings.  Ducoff shows us the Happy Bagel, his latest dance.  And we eat bagels. happy-bagel Not hole-less, soulless bagels. We’ll munch authentic Chew-ish bagels (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside) with holes big enough to stick shabbes candles in and light.

The meal: Tractor-size bagels from Russia; chicken liver with gribens (cracklings); and fruit tarts.

9/16  The Crazy Mom

The late Barbara Shlensky, party planner, talks about the “Crazy Mom” phenomenon.  How much Valium is too much for Mom’s cocktail?  What if Mom jumps on the bandstand and screams, “Stop right now!  The floor is collapsing!” valium What about Mom’s 45-minute cocktail hour that runs two hours, and the now-drunk guests are accidentally breaking wine glasses and dripping blood onto the white vinyl dance floor?  Finally, has there ever been a $100,000 bar mitzvah party in Cleveland?  Whose?  Barbara answers that.

The meal: Thai kreplach; cauliflower kugel; stuffed cabbage with cranberry sauce; and pistachio macaroons.

See the next post, too, please.  More food references . . .

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March 2, 2011   7 Comments


Walt Mahovlich, the leader of the Gypsy-style band Harmonia, had hundreds of cassette tapes in his living room. He had custom-made bookshelves lined with tapes. There were Yugoslavian field recording from the 1970s and commercial ethnic tapes from the 1980s and 1990s.  And he had dubbed some LPs to tape.

Walt’s wall o’ tapes was organized by nationality: Albanian, Croatian, Hungarian, Jewish, Macedonian, Romanian, Rusyn, Serbian, Slovak and Turkish.

A tape — a brand-new chrome tape with Dolby — often sounded as good as the original LP.  But few dubbers bought chrome.  Even the commercial tapes released in the 1980s weren’t always chrome.

One big downside to tape: the tape player would occasionally eat the skinny tape, and you’d have to splice it back to health.

The cassettes, with their cases, were compact.  Give them that.

walkmanI bought a Sony Walkman cassette player in 1981, just prior to my first son’s birth.   My wife, Alice, went through three 24-hour shifts of obstetricians before she delivered.  I had the cassette tapes (dubbed jazz LPs) and two corned beef sandwiches from Irv’s Deli.  I was set.  My wife had complications.

The doctors wanted to check it out. Not the complications. The Walkman. They had never seen one.

Three years ago I bought a Chinese Walkman knock-off for $40 at Radio Shack.  I thought the Walkman might disappear.

Sony recently announced the end of Walkman cassette player production.

Two words:  Stock up.

Teddy Stratton, 1 month

Teddy Stratton, 1 month


Walt Mahovlich’s wall o’ tapes still exists in the same West Side living room.

Last week Walt said, “I should transfer my tapes to digital.  Who knows how long they’ll last — the tapes.  But what I really need to do is record a 78 — something that will really last!”

“You want to record a 78 RPM?”

“Yes.  Alan [Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player] has a 78-making machine.  I saw it years ago.  I want to record a tune, then prematurely age the disc — the 78 — and place it in strategic places for people to find.”

“Like at Goodwill stores?”

“Maybe.  It’ll be a hoax, like Piltdown Man.”

“An original tune?”

“No, a clarinet piece I learned years ago.  I’ll call it ‘Der Freylekher Bulgar’ for the Jewish market and ‘Lerinsko Narodno Oro” for the Macedonians. It’ll be the same tune, two markets.  Like Tarras.” *

“Do you have a Walkman?”

“No, I’ve never had one.”

“You should get one.”

“I have a tape deck. I’m set.”

Walt Mahovlich, accordion, had an aura.  Yiddishe Cup, 1993

Walt Mahovlich, accordion, had an aura. Yiddishe Cup, 1993

* Dave Tarras, klezmer clarinetist, sometimes “re-gifted” his Jewish tunes to fit the Greek market, and vice versa.

“Der Freylekher Bulgar” is Yiddish for “The Happy Dance.”  “Lerinsko Narodno Oro” is Macedonian for “Lerin Region Folk Dance.”

Thanks to Lori Cahan-Simon, musician and Yiddishist, for the  correct spelling on “Der Freylekher Bulgar.”

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December 10, 2010   3 Comments


I was down and out in a Marriott hotel in Troy, Mich.   The bride, several hours earlier, had told me, “I can’t dance in these shoes.  Can I just watch the hora?”

She watched.  I asked her three times if she wanted to be lifted on the chair.  No, she said three times.  The bride and groom stood in the middle of the hora circle like statuettes on a wedding cake.

There was no place to walk at the Marriott, which was in a large shopping development.

Marriott Hotel, Troy, Mich.

Marriott Hotel, Troy, Mich.

I wrote notes to myself on the hotel stationery to justify my existence.  My truest observation: “Yiddishe Cup is providing a valuable service for the Jewish communities of the Midwest.”

The Marriott room had 8 pillows, 10 towels, 2 beds and 2 bathroom mirrors that showed everything.

I couldn’t justify 8 pillows, 10 towels, etc.  I just couldn’t.  That bride should have danced.

Luckily the hotel windows didn’t open.

Yiddishe Cup  plays this Sunday (Nov. 7, 4 p.m.) at the Brecksville United Church of Christ, Brecksville, Ohio.

REMINDER: This blog now updates twice a week: Wednesday and Friday.

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November 5, 2010   1 Comment



A simple fall pleasure is walking around Shaker Lakes listening to Michigan football on the radio.

I came by this diversion fairly recently.  My older kids went to liberal arts colleges with no football teams.  I figured my youngest child would too.  I took him to Oberlin on a college tour and said, “Can you see yourself here?”

“In a word, Dad, no,” he said.  “There’s not enough sports talk.”  Jack, the youngest, wanted rah-rah.

He went to Michigan and got rah-rah.  We rehashed the football games his freshman year.

I monitored the university’s Web site like a helicopter parent.  I told my son to audition for the pep band, the Hillel a cappella group, the school’s percussion group and anything else he could think of.  I wanted him to find a niche at the Big U.

And I wanted Michigan to win at football, because my son was so rah-rah.

Jack Stratton, 2008. Michigan Women's Basketball Band

Jack Stratton, 2008. Michigan Women’s Basketball Band

I followed the football games on the Internet my son’s first year.  I didn’t know about the games on Cleveland radio.   That was stupefying — the Internet — like staring at a tickertape: Joe Blow . . . 3 yards . . .  3rd and 5 . . . M 46 yard line.”

Then I serendipitously found Michigan football on Cleveland radio.  No more squinting at the computer.  The announcer promoted Detroit pizza parlors and grocery stores.  I felt like a ham operator picking up an exotic locale.  “Gratiot at 8 Mile.”  CKLW radio — the border blaster — was sending out the Wolverine word from Windsor.

Michigan football isn’t on CKLW this year.  It’s on a weak FM station from Detroit. End of my fall bliss.

The team used to be good, then suddenly stunk.  The university hired a new coach.

I asked my son what he thought of the new guy.

He said, “Who is it?”

He didn’t know about Rich Rod!  (Rich Rodriquez, the new coach.)  Jack had fallen under the sway of the football atheists at the Residential College and music school.

I knew more Michigan football than my son.  I was now rah-rah and he was so-so.  Odd.



A PhD classical music student at the co-op house in Ann Arbor didn’t like my practicing.  He didn’t like jazz, period. And he didn’t like my girlfriend.  He called her a “hole,” which was black slang around 1970.   This guy, though, was a tall blond Texan.

Tex would answer the house phone and announce to one and all: “Bertie, your hole is on the line.”  (“Bertie” wasn’t too cool either.)

I punched him.  He was seated on the couch in the co-op living room.  I hit him and his coffee went flying.  He stopped bugging people — at least me — after that.  He thought I was nuts.

I wasn’t nuts.  I haven’t attacked anybody since, except a teenager I punched when I taught at an ESL school. (Different story.)

In 1970 Miles Davis had just released Bitches Brew, the first big-time jazz-rock album.  I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from black students.  I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk.

Tex became an administrator in the Michigan music school.  Mazel tov.  He stayed there forever.

My youngest kid went to music school at Michigan.  Mazel tov. I occasionally went to see my son perform and kept an eye out for Tex.  I didn’t run into him.  I was ready to apologize, unless he called me Bertie again.

Bertie?  That numbskull, I swear . . .

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October 13, 2010   6 Comments


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


Yiddishe Cup’s biggest fan is Lea Grossman.

She got us a gig at The Ark, the premier acoustic music club in the Midwest.  She kugel-ed The Ark’s program director.  She delivered a noodle kugel to his office in Ann Arbor, Mich.  He liked it and he hired us.  (Hopefully our music had something to do with the booking too.)

I had been avoiding Ann Arbor.  I had attended college there during the hippie era and hadn’t learned much.  There had been a quasi-ban on book learning.  The foreign language requirement had been oppressive, according to protestors, and the Psych teaching assistants led T-Groups and gave everyone A’s.  Until I signed up. Then it went to pass/fail.

When my kids started looking at colleges, I told them Michigan was a swamp.  Too big, too impersonal.

I even rooted for Ohio State over Michigan.  I harbored some serious animosity toward the Blue. I told Michigan to stop sending me alumni mail.  But for $75 I hedged and sent a donation every year.  You never knew.

Thanks to Yiddishe Cup super-fan Lea Grossman, I wound up back at Michigan big-time.  Lea is 60-something but gets around like a coed, and she promoted our band to everybody and helped put signs on every phone pole.  The woman can dance, party and cook.  She knows every Jewish dance, and has sung “Tumbalalaika” on stage with Yiddishe Cup at The Ark.

Lea lived near North Campus in a university-affiliated retirement community.  It was like a dorm for seniors — real seniors.  North Campus — the last time I had been there — had been a music school, a smattering of grad student housing, and one undergraduate dorm.  It had been the end of the earth.  You had to take a bus to get there.  (Still do.)  The dorm was called Bursley, as in “brrr, it’s cold.”

For Yiddishe Cup’s first Ark appearance, I picked January.  Not too many rational Clevelanders scheduled weddings in January, so we had an opening.

Ann Arbor’s weather was just like Cleveland’s.  Bad.  And we got a huge crowd at the club.  That was weird.  The difference between Cleveland and Ann Arbor was Michigan had a puffy coat brigade. The worse the weather, the more the puffy coaters came out.  It was almost an Upper Midwest can-do chic — like something from the Progressive Era — a bunch of irregular Jews in irregular puffy coats.

On our first Ark gig, my youngest son stayed in the North Campus dorm, Bursley.  He was in eleventh grade.  (He also played drums on the gig.)

He liked the school and wound up at Michigan.

So I returned to the swamp– to see my son, and play gigs.  (My other kids went to small liberal arts colleges.)

I couldn’t get the Michigan Daily to write up Yiddishe Cup.  Ever.  I tried. The reporters wouldn’t return calls.  Maybe they weren’t too crazy about talking to a middle-aged klezmer guy.

When I had been a Daily reporter, I had enjoyed the John Lennon and Miles Davis assignments but not the local-angle profiles, like when I wrote up the Discount Records clerk who played sax.  (That sax player, Steve Mackay, was good, and cut some records with the Stooges later.)

Lea didn’t know who to kugel at the Daily; the Daily reporters were always rotating in and out.  They missed a good dish. 

Lea moved to New Jersey a year ago.

“To Kugel,” this post,  first appeared in the Washtenaw (Ann Arbor, Mich.) Jewish News, Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010.
Check out the new video clip “Driving Mr. Klezmer,” live from The Challah Fame Cafe. The Klezmer Guy blog exits the loch (your computer).  Klezmer Guy walks and talks.  Rated scary.
Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 23.   Guests include Hawaiian guitarist Gerald Ross, comedian Seymour Posner, and members of the soul/klez band Groove Spoon.

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January 6, 2010   3 Comments



Musician Mickey Katz called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.”   He drank them at Solomon’s on E. 105th Street.

I drank mine at Solomon’s at the Cedar Center shopping strip, where Solomon’s moved to.

For some Semitic semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. Now it kind of is.  The north side of Cedar Center is concrete chunks and gravel heaps. A real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and plans to redevelop.  Who knows when.

Solomon’s was my family’s deli of choice. My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.”  In the Jewish world, that’s usually a putdown, meaning the person knows more about corned beef than Rashi.  Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

Toby, a phosphate fan, probably didn’t drink more than a dozen real beers his whole life.  He should have.  In his retirement, when he drank booze he smiled a lot more.  A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. That stuck with me.  [Shiker is drunk.]

Toby grew up in a deli. His mother had a candy store/ deli at E. 118 Street and Kinsman Road. She sold it to her half-brother when he came over from the Old Country.  Something fishy about that deal — something involving the half-brother’s wife.   My grandmother went from candy store/deli owner to simply candy store owner.  Not a lateral move.

At the Gaza Strip, there was also Corky & Lenny’s. (Still around — four miles east.)   A couple small Jews hung out in the rear booth at Corky’s.  One was Harvey, who did collections for a major landlord.  (Major, to me, means more than 1,000 units.)  I knew Harvey from junior high.

He sued my mother.  My mother, for health reasons, moved from her Beachwood apartment after 27 years into an assisted living facility.  She had a couple months left on her lease.  Harvey, who represented the major landlord, went after her.  Harvey’s boss, by the way, loved my band.   So what.  My mother was collectable.

Freelance journalist David Sax just wrotea book about the decline of delis.  Here’s something for the second edition, David: Delis went downhill when they added TVs.  Now you have to watch the Browns while you eat.

I was deli-famous.  At Jack’s Delion Green Road, I had a thank-you note up in the entrance.   My letter was about the terrific tray for my firstborn’s bris.  Fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish.  What a blast.  (I ordered the exact same tray for my daughter’s naming.)

I complimented Jack’s Deli on its fish, which my Aunt Bernice, The Maven, also liked.   I mentioned “The Maven’s seal of approval” in my letter.  Bernice work for a food broker and knew food.

My letter was up for a couple years.

(Acknowledgment to Henry Sapoznik for “fork-lore” in this story’s title.)


2.  ’DINES

The trend at mass-feed kiddushes (post-service temple chows) is toward Israeli foods: hummus, baba ganoush, Israeli salad.

When you privatize — and don’t invite the whole congregation — you typically add some fish.

All Jews like a good piece of fish: lox, smoked fish, herring, the occasional sardine.

My youngest son recently called  from Trader Joe’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and said, “Don’t get excited, Dad, but do I want the sardines in oil or water?”


I did get excited.  My college kid was finally getting into ’dines.

My mother had given me about eight cans of ’dines when I went off to college.  I ate them on Sunday evenings, when the dorm cafeteria was closed.  (This was back when sardine cans opened with a key, and the ’dines were Portuguese — not Moroccan like now.)  Surprisingly – to me at least – the guys in the dorm wouldn’t share my ’dines. Pizza time.

I liked all kinds of ’dines.  Even the monster-size sardines in tomato sauce were OK.  Bones, no bones . . .  no matter.  Cajun sauce, soya oil, olive oil, mustard sauce . . .  all good. Four ’dines in a can, two in a can . . . either way.

Anchovies?  Also, an excellent choice. Make sure you buy your anchovies in a bottle; they last longer than in cans.

Herring in wine sauce.   Beware.  Last month Heinen’s supermarket substituted Vita brand for Golden Herring.  That was lamentable.  Vita is too sugary.

At luncheons, the other Yiddishe Cup musicians don’t seem to appreciate the fish (i.e., the “dairy spread” in kosher parlance) as much as I do.  Yes, they like the lox.  Lox is apple pie.  But the other items (smoked fish excluded) get little play from the band.  You should see the mountains of herring left over.

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October 21, 2009   17 Comments


Klezmer bands are often run like dictatorships because klezmer music originated in Eastern Europe — a part of the world notorious for autocrats.  Or so hypothesized Walt Mahovlich, the leader of the renowned gypsy-style band Harmonia.  Walt is an expert on Eastern Europe. His full name is Waltipedia.  Maybe.

Walt used to be in Yiddishe Cup. Technically he still is.  He is on a leave of absence, which he requested 13 years ago.  Walt likes to keep his options open.

If you run a band as a democracy, you’ll be in total disarray on the bandstand, Walt said.  I had a musician who liked to call tunes for me.  Drove me nuts.  Luckily he moved out of town 19 years ago.

Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, Alan Douglass, occasionally requests songs.  More often, he requests not to play a certain song.  For instance, he does not like playing “balls out” (hard-driving) music during guests’ meals.  Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not.  These folks — at bar mitzvah luncheons — are comatose from a three-hour shabbat service followed by a 30-minute kiddush (post-service schmooze).  Sometimes they need a bracing shot of high-proof klez.

Some musicians have trouble with bandleaders’ czar-like behavior. My guys — not so much.  Yiddishe Cup’s musicians are the best in Cleveland; they get paid the most; and they generally cooperate.  If I have a problem with a guy, I’ll talk to him alone, not in front of the others.

Craig Woodson, a veteran drummer, taught me not to air private grievances in public.  Craig, too, believed in the benevolent monarch thing.  He had worked with a king — Elvis.  (Check Craig out in the movie Clambake.)

Craig was Yiddishe Cup’s second drummer. He was good — and in California too often on his own gigs.  Yiddishe Cup went through a ton of drummers.  Our current drummer, Don Friedman — who has been with us 13 years — knows how to keep time and add tasteful fills.  So does our alternate drummer, a yingl (boy) named Diddle.

Diddle, 21, started “playing out” (gigging) when he was 13.  I hate that — that start-out-as-young as-Mozart-or-you’re-toast mentality.  Diddle’s father hangs around our gigs, kind of like Venus and Serena’s dad.

Cleveland’s jazz king Ernie Krivda played in his dad’s polka band at 13.  Clarinetist Ken Peplowski played in a polka band at 13.  Joe Lovano started the sax at 5.  “At 16 the young Joe Lovano got his driver’s license and no longer needed his father, Big T, to drive
him . . .” blah, blah.

My father was a “Big T” too.  Toby.  Why didn’t he have a band?  Or at least a decent record player.
1 of 2 posts for 9/2/09.  Please see post below too.
Yiddishe Cup concert 7:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 6, Orange Village (Ohio) gazebo.

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September 2, 2009   3 Comments


On our thirtieth wedding anniversary trip, my wife, Alice, and I were in a small town, Creel, Chihuahua, northern Mexico, along  with a lot of federal cops.  Some of them were crowded around a store window that had bullet holes in it.  This was déjà vu for me; I used to rent to the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Center, which always had its share of bullet holes, plus red food coloring, red Jell-O and toy baby doll arms piled in the doorway.  I never billed the government for cleaning up.

The Mexican federales wore all black.  Some had masks, so the drug cartel boys wouldn’t recognize them.  Other than that, Creel was like Put-in-Bay, Ohio: a resort town with tchatche shops everywhere. And there was a coffeehouse, featuring an open mic night, in the Best Western.

I often pack a harmonica when I camp— and  we had just spent a few days in the Copper Canyon mountains — so I did a blues harmonica ditty at the open mic.  An American, Diddle, backed me on guitar.

After this cross-cultural interlude, my wife and I walked past the store with the bullet holes again.  We heard a “rat-a-tat-tat.”  No, a “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.”  We ducked and ran like Groucho Marxes. We wound up on the floor in a nearby hotel lobby, where a clerk jabbered about how she had never been so frightened in her whole life.

Me too.

And I had just paid thousands of dollars to get shot at.  At least in Israel it would have made some sense — solidarity with my people and all that.

How was your trip, Bert?

Nice except for getting shot at.

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June 12, 2009   2 Comments


Another negative in the music biz: party planners.  (Not to be confused with event planners, who are typically business-like, big-time and helpful.)  These party-planner ladies poke into my freylekhs (hora) time, giving me hand signals like quarterback Frank Ryan, as they scream: “The soup is getting cold! Stop the music!”

I ran into a party planner in D.C. who was flashing so many fingers, I thought she was trying to land an airplane.

I try to ignore these women.  I know how long “Hava Nagila” should last, and screw the kitchen staff and their perishable salads they want to “plate.”  Basically, listen to the person with the checkbook.  If the client wants a 20-minute hora, she’ll get 20, even if the party planner says 15.  One time the dad wanted 45 minutes; the mom wanted 30; and the party planner called an audible at 15.  Naturally I followed the dad.  He was writing the check, and he loved the set.

Party planners, in real estate terms, are “tenants from hell.”  Do the math:  The party planner = the tenant who paints her walls turquoise and brings in four cats and then lobbies for a skunk. “But it’s denatured,” the tenant says.

Go buy your own apartment building and fill it up like the Cleveland Zoo.  Not everybody wants to see a skunk walking down the hallway.

Rewind:  Party planners are frequently hard-working, talented people. They dress chicly in black and know something about everything, from lighting to matzo balls.  Musicians think the party revolves around the band.  Actually, the party revolves around the newlyweds or bar/bat mitzvah.  Note to wedding musicians: You are not on stage at Nautica.  You are in a service industry. You can be replaced by a DJ in a second.  In fact you’re fired.



WHAT SIDEMEN? . . .When the gig is bad, the client comes to the leader, not the sidemen.   Sidemen are invisible.

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May 14, 2009   4 Comments