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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

Category — Kinder, Di

THE KLEZMER DINNER PROJECT

271-chagrin1

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

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

Bread:
Challah from the Park Synagogue preschool

Soup:
Precision matzo ball soup.  Cleveland Punch & Die Co.

Entree:
Smokin’ salmon.  Pot Sauce Williams

Sides:
Alice’s farfel (egg barley) and mushrooms

Dessert:
Star of David lollipops from the Chocolate Emporium

Beverages:
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

WALKMAN MAN

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

DOWN AND OUT IN TROY, MICHIGAN

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.  www.brecksvilleucc.org

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

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November 5, 2010   1 Comment

WOLVERINE BLUES

1. RAH-RAH AND SO-SO

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.

***

2. SONNY, LISTEN

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

PORTRAITS

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

TO KUGEL

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.

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“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

FISHY

1.   JEWISH FORK-LORE

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?”

“Oil.”

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

KLEZ CZARS

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.
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1 of 2 posts for 9/2/09.  Please see post below too.
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Yiddishe Cup concert 7:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 6, Orange Village (Ohio) gazebo.

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September 2, 2009   3 Comments

“OPEN MIC” FRIGHT

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

SKUNKS

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.

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Tomorrow:

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