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 has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


Category — KlezFiction


I run a bar mitzvah-party think tank.  It’s the only one in the world.

I have clients — mostly DJs.  I supply them with explosives, lyrics and games.

Some of my games are free, just to build up website traffic.  For instance, take my humiliation game: the bar mitzvah boy stands on the dance floor surrounded by searing sterno cans.  We throw napkins at him.

My best-selling games: Twine Fun, Narcissism Express, Beach Sand Saturation, Toxic Candy, Enjambment and Trunk-like Bodies, which is shooting darts at kids hiding in potted plants.

I have very few klez-band clients.  Wake up, Jews, I have Jewish-themed stuff!  Bottle caps are cool.  The kids wear bottle caps on their heads, and the last kid to lose his “yarmulke,” wins.  Lots of body contact.

My best-selling game is Trash Floating in Punch.  We throw chicken bones, children’s books from the centerpieces, and empty plastic wine glasses into the punch bowl.  Kids reach in and fish for prizes.  Nobody loses.  And it’s ecological.

I strained my back.  Bingo, new game . . . The Grandpa Shuffle.  Kids walk like old men and mutter creative Yiddish curses.  It’s shameful, yet stunning to see teenagers limp and spew: “Zol er krenken un gedenken.” (Let him suffer and remember.)

Irwin Weinberger, regional distributor of toilet slime.

Of course, I have normal games.  I have laughing gas, toilet slime kits, photo booths, giant inflatables and partisans.

We’re full service.


Does the KlezFiction piece, above, bug you? A reader dismissed my previous KlezFiction pieces as “avant-garde.” Here is something more concrete . . .


My rabbi criticized me for mispronouncing a word — not a Hebrew word either.  I mispronounced “Route 66.”   I said Rout 66.  My rabbi is from St. Louis and takes Root 66 personally.  The road and the song.

I like roads, borders and boundaries. In Ohio it’s Rout.

In college I honked whenever I crossed the Michigan line into Ohio on U.S. 23.  All hail The Buckeye State.

Michigan was The Water-Winter Wonderland for many lame years.  The Great Lake State is better.

I was in Seligman, Arizona — on Route 66 — last week.  (The road sign says “Historic Route 66.”)   Every tchotchke shop in Seligman had Route 66 gear.  Thirty Japanese motorcyclists in black leather pulled into the tchotchke shop.  (I wasn’t there.  I heard about it.)  Seligman is named after a Jew.  I just learned that.  So two tchotchkes in this paragraph is OK.

I would like to see 30 Japanese guys on Harleys pull into Cleveland Heights.

Suburban boundaries are locatable by checking street-sign colors.  For instance, Cleveland Heights signs are green; Cleveland, blue; and Shaker Heights, white.

Northern South Euclid — the area — perplexed me as a kid.

Cormere Avenue in Cleveland is a street to ponder.  It’s near Shaker Square.  Carl Stokes lived there.  Many locals mistake Cormere for Shaker Heights.  Shaker Square is in Cleveland too, not Shaker Heights.

Last week, when I was at the Grand Canyon, a Californian called me “Iowa.”  He called me “Iowa” even after I said “Go Bucks” to him.

He was from Anaheim.  Just say “I’m from L.A.,” please.  Same for Orange County.  Say “L.A.”  I saw a lot of Californians in the Grand Canyon.  One was from Atascadero.  What?  I’m weak on California.

Ohio is my strong suit.  I built a plaster of Paris model of the Ohio Turnpike for my 8th-grade Ohio History project.  My wife built the Terminal Tower in 4th-grade Ohio History.  (She’s from Columbus, Ohio.)  Ohio has 88 counties. Not many states have that many counties.  [Wrong. Twelve states have more counties than Ohio.  Texas leads with 254; Georgia, 159; Virginia, 134.]

Nobody cares there are only 3 people left in the city of Cleveland.  The question is, How big is the metro region? Cleveland-Akron is the 17th biggest TV market.  I mistakenly told several Grand Canyon hikers that Cleveland is the 30th largest market.  I didn’t know Cleveland is that big.

I like rankings and a certain amount of order.  I like boundaries.  I like to know where I am.

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April 18, 2012   10 Comments


Daniel Ducoff, Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, is the all-in-one-machine: booking agent, valet and shrink.

Daniel has a social-work master’s degree and does free counseling.  For instance, when the musicians go out — like to CVS for candy bars and clubs for drinking — Ducoff hangs back with me  and says:  “What’s a couple extra bucks for beer and Snickers for the boys to to keep them happy?  Don’t fret. ”

Daniel handles all contract negotiations.   It’s not right for the bandleader to yak on the phone about “wiggle room” for the Oshkosh Opera House contract.  That’s Daniel’s job.

Ducoff handles the press too.  Reporters ask, “Why is this klezmer band different than all other klezmer bands?”  Daniel’s  answer: “Yiddishe Cup plays naked.”   The reporters — shlubs who sit in cubicles all day — buy it.

Daniel, who swam competitively in high school, calls ahead for dimensions on  pools at hotels.  Nobody likes to pull up to an “Olympic pool” that is four raindrops.

Daniel knows his way around snack shops.  Sun-baked chips are popular with the band.  Daniel says, “Sun baked chips are still chips, guys. You think the sun zapped the calories out?”

Daniel Ducoff

Daniel knows how to find exquisite — by Midwest standards — sourdough pretzels at all Pilot and Duke truck stops.

Ducoff is also the enforcer.  For example, Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, Don Friedman, occasionally blasts hard-bop jazz, like Art Blakey, inside the van.   This is borderline acceptable; it gives the band a certain panache when we pull into Bob Evans in Celina, Ohio, with  “Moanin’” blaring.   But, Don, turn the jazz off already!  That’s Ducoff’s job to tell Don.

Daniel Ducoff is the all-in-one machine.

This post, “He Gets Paid Extra,” is 49-percent true. It’s klez fiction.



More klez fiction.  Readers demand it.  Certain readers, that is.  Pete Rushefsky, a NYC klezmer musician, told me, “I don’t read any of your real estate stuff.  I skip that and read the klezmer.”  There are 398 klez fans in the world.  They read this blog.  Enjoy.


I auditioned for Green Man Group at the Cleveland home of klezmer violinist Steve Greenman.

I didn’t play clarinet for Greenman.  I played my eyes.  I looked maniacally Jewish, then playfully Jewish and, finally, soulfully Jewish. I thought “Einstein” the whole time.

I got a callback!   Me and five other guys.

At the callback, Greenman sprayed us green and had us play fiddle patterns in E minor.  This was awkward for me because E minor is a bad key for my axe — clarinet.

But I did OK.

I made it to the final audition.  Me, Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; and Jeff Warschauer, mandolin.  Greenman knows us all personally.  (That’s show biz.)

We didn’t get sprayed green this time, nor perform. Greenman interviewed us separately.

GREENMAN: A deer jumps on stage while you’re performing.  What do you do?

STRATTON: I play “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” in E minor, then shoot the deer.

GREENMAN: A customer in a wheelchair says, “Stop talking and start playing!”

STRATTON: I say, “I’ll start playing when you stand up.”

GREENMAN: Can you make hot hors d’oeuvres pop out of your instrument?

STRATTON: Yes, and candy apples on Simchat Torah.

GREENMAN: What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done on stage?

STRATTON: I tore up a $100 bill on stage at the Omaha JCC while the audience screamed at me:  “Stop, I’ll take that!”  It was art.

GREENMAN: What if nobody showed up at your gig?

STRATTON: I play hard for zero people just like I play for 6,000, which is what I’m used to.

Jeff Warschauer got the job.  Greenman and Warschauer are both short.  Greenman didn’t want anybody taller than him on stage.  That’s why I didn’t make it.

I have a piece, “For Cleveland Jews, Schvitz is Must,” in The Forward (online) this week.  Check it out, or read an extended version here in a few weeks.   The longer version should be better; it will contain profanity-laced, schvitzian dialogue.

A word from Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader:

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March 14, 2012   8 Comments


It wouldn’t cost much for me to open a klezmer store.  I have several vacant storefronts.

I could put my store — call it the Klezmer Shack — next to the Bass Shop.  The Bass Shop doesn’t sell basses, but string players brake for it anyway.  The Bass Shop is a bait and tackle store.

Some of my  merchandise:

The Jewish Fake Book by Velvet Pasternak. Useful for anybody who wants to pass as a Jew.  You’ll learn your way around seltzer and freylekhs (horas).  Plus you’ll learn the Hebrew lyrics to  “Jerusalem of Gold”  and “Bashana Haba’a.”

Yiddishe Cup latkes.

Dave Tarras’ Freilachs, Bulgars, Horas — 22 clarinet tunes, handwritten by the master himself.  I got my copy in Delray Beach, Florida, from the widow of Harold Branch, the late New York bandleader.

Irwin Weinberger’s autoharp.  Please buy it!  (Irwin is Yiddishe Cup’s singer.)

Harold Branch’s Club Date Handbook.   You’ll learn what to play when the caterer wheels in the Viennese dessert cart at a 1968 New York bar mitzvah party.   For the flaming jubilee, play “Funiculi, Funicula.”   (For the main course — the roast beef — play “I’m an Old Cowhand.”)

Clarinet neck straps.  Hard to find.  We have them.

Clarinet travel bags.  Ours are imported from the Pilot truck stop, Lodi, Ohio.

Two Twistin The Freilach LPs, 1961.  Used.

Seven Kleveland Klezmorim Sound of the World’s Soul LPs, 1985.  Never opened.

Klezmer gum.


Footnote:  There  is a Klezmer Shack website,  run by Ari Davidow, who is allowing me to use the name for my store, I think.

Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio) 6:15 p.m. Sat., Dec. 31.

Here’s a video by Kasumi,  who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  She won a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship for her vid work.  This video is Yiddishe Cup.

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December 21, 2011   4 Comments


Have you read any good klezmer liner notes lately?

Probably not.

How about some bad notes? . . .

“The drummer has appeared in duo and trip [sic] settings.”

“This is what happens when Rumshinsky’s Theatre Bulgar is feed [sic] through Quincy Jones talking about Count Basie.”

“One[sic] the other side of the hall, a zedeh and bobe will spin in skeletal outlines the remembered steps of a tantz (dance) that their parents taught them …”


Here is the solution.  Hire Klezmer Guy Ink to write your liner notes.

If you submit to Klezmer Guy Ink, please follow these guidelines:

1. Don’t name your tunes.  We’ll do that.   Your first cut will be “Klezmer Lovin’,” “Hymie’s Town,” or “Romanian Shock #1.”  We’ll decide.

2. Don’t name your album.  We do that.  The choices: Intravenous Klezmer, 13 Jewish Hummingbirds and Black Curly Hair.  We pick.

3. We hire world-class musicians to punch up your sound. Our stable includes Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg and Eric Carmen (of the Raspberries).

4. We’ll come up with a pseudonym for a musician in your band.  This makes your album mysterious and more marketable.   Choices: M. Rogue Gemini, Hy Lowe and Jewboy Fuller.  We pick.

5. Your bio is tweaked.  Even if you’re a nebbish from Long Island, you visited your grandmother in Brooklyn at least once, right?  You’re from Brooklyn.

6. We’ll get you impressive music-school credentials.  We work with the Broadway School of Music.*

For your CD cover, we use red.  Why not?

Give Klezmer Guy Ink a call.  Some of our clients have been somewhat satisfied.
*Broadway School of Music, 5415 Broadway Avenue, Cleveland.

A version of this post appeared in Zeek, the online “Jewish journal of thought and culture,” on December 21, 2010.

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November 2, 2011   2 Comments


The Challah Fame announced its lecture series today:  The Art of Klezmer . . . How to Make it Hypnotic, Bruising and Revelatory.

Klez Mezzrow

Klez Mezzrow, lecture series curator

The lectures are free, but attendees must bring doctors’ permission slips. Some lectures might be dangerous, according to the brochure.

The first lecture is June 15, featuring Hankus Netsky, bandleader of the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

6/15  Hankus Netsky HOW DO I STOP THIS THING?

Should a klezmer song end with a “squirt” (quarter note) or a “pop” (eighth note)?   Or how about a simple  I-V-I chord tag?  Or  should the bandleader just scream, “It was all a mistake!”

Netsky is clear and emotive.  Expect audience participation, including hummus-smearing and firearms.

6/22  Sarah Gordon WEATHER THAT KILLS

Sarah, a singer and third-grade teacher in New York, will talk about corporal punishment.  Gordon’s punk-klez band, Yiddish Princess, is best known for “Painkiller” and “Weather That Kills.”   Gordon gives us an insider’s look at the combative multivalent New York klezmer scene.  Bring knives.  Sarah  is going to recreate the West Side Story switchblade scene in Yiddish.  Volunteers needed.

7/9  Don Friedman PRAISED BE KLEZMER!

Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, Don Friedman,  is the spiritual leader of The Churchagogue in Twinsburg, Ohio.  Donny invented the Jewish freewill offering; it isn’t free.  Donny was the recipient of Sweden’s “Little Drummer Boy” prize ($753,000) last year and invested much of that in upgrading The Churchagogue, tick-talk1which attracts more than 2,000 worshippers on a typical shabbes morning.  Free refills on the Mogen David through “Eyn Keloheynu.”  Donny delivers his most famous sermon tonight: “Time. Sometimes it passes slowly. Sometimes it flies by.”

7/29  Alice Stratton OLD-SCHOOL MATH

Alice talks about pacing and musical symmetry.  She takes us back to the days when hora tempos were T-120 (120 beats/minute) and veteran pianist Pete Sokolow‘s blood pressure was under 120.  Alice, a dance leader with Yiddishe Cup, makes her second Challah Fame appearance tonight.  In 2000 she debuted her dance “Some Kind of Cheesy Orgy” at The Challah Fame grand opening.

8/6  Daniel Kahn SLACKIN’ WITH DANNY K

Daniel Kahn, a.k.a. Danny K, chants the trope of recuperative klezmer here.  No worries, it’s all good.  How to enjoy life by playing music, singing, or just listening.  Kahn, from Berlin, does mixed-genre exploring, using ketchup, sauerkraut and clarinets.  Samples afterward.

9/15  Michael Winograd THE 2011 KLEZMER MANIFESTO

Wino, the 28-year-old klez clarinet phenom, delivers the first klez manifesto since Alicia Svigals wailed her “Against Nostalgia” rant at the 1996 Wesleyan University Klezmer Conference.

Here are some of Winograd’s key points:

1. It’s a lonely world.  Hi, everybody.
2. I’ve done many things wrong.  Sorry about that.
3. I get paid to eat at weddings. Why?
4. A scrap of paper in my wallet says I owe you.  Shut up, scrap!

10/3 Ted Stratton MUSIC THAT REPELS

Stratton focuses on life’s basics: dirt, worms, aphids, flies and klezmer music. What’s real, what’s not? What’s fake, what’s authentic? What’s cool, what’s dumb?rear-view-bert3 Stratton looks at the avant-garde in his rearview mirror; he’s way ahead of you. His latest book is The Limbo: Still Rockin’ at 50. How Long Can It Go?


Rubin leads us on a virtual eating tour deep into Europe, a la Borat.  Rubin focuses primarily on risk-taking in eating.

Rubin will be barbecuing ribs throughout the lecture and not washing his hands.  Some spitting too. Samples afterward.

11/2 Daniel Ducoff AQUA-KLEZMER

Daniel Ducoff, a swimmer and Yiddishe Cup dance leader, talks about the awe-inspiring aspects of the Jewish water experience.

What is “difficult” will be “not difficult” after Daniel’s lecture.  You will not be afraid of  the 10-meter board or the mikvah.

Mystical, glorious and powerful mayim (water). Heartbreaking too.  Bring a suit.  There will be a baby pool and high board. Expect some broken bones.


Walt‘s lecture is a split-perception event.  Half the audience wears “I ♥Yiddish” buttons, and the other half  gets
“I ♥ Roma”  badges.  Challah Fame staffers are the U.N. observers.  Let’s see what happens.  Situation report to follow.


Israeli clarinetist Moshe Berlin lectures in Hebrew on the differences between Israeli and American klezmer music.  Free Holy Land yarmulkes to all who attend. Also, Moshe will pass out learsi refrigerator magnets afterwards. “Learsi”  is “Israel” spelled backwards. The Learsi Project encourages you to read everything — even English —

Footnote: 1.3 percent of the words in this post are stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter #226.

Enjoy the “Klezmer Guy” blog, accompanied by beer, food
and music . . .

Tues. (June 14)
7:30 p.m.

Spoken word, klezmer, rock, pop, Tin Pan Alley and alley.

Bert Stratton, clarinet, spoken word
Alan Douglass, piano, vocals
Jack Stratton, drums, beat-box

Lots of new material in this show. Your name might pop up in the script.

12387 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Hts.

Yiddishe Cup — the whole band — is at Parade The Circle, Cleveland, 11 a.m. Sat. (June 11). We’re playing a pre-parade concert.

We’ll also be at Temple Israel (Akron, Ohio) Sat. night (June 11), 8 p.m., for a concert. 330-762-8617.

Check out this funny and good 1970 Kickstarter video by Yiddishe Cup’s alternate drummer, Jack Stratton.

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June 8, 2011   5 Comments


Larry Morrow, a retired Cleveland DJ, has a memoir out, This is Larry Morrow . . . My Life On and Off the Air: Stories from Four Decades in Cleveland Radio.

Is there a market for that sort of thing?

If so, I’m typing.  I’ve changed a couple facts but the rest here is true . . .

band-of-7Every Sunday the Stratton family gathered around the piano and jammed.  They had a seven-piece band.  Neighbors stood on the sidewalk and listened.  The Strattons played klezmer, which wasn’t called klezmer in the 1960s. It was called “playing Jewish.”  Nobody listened for too long, because the neighbors wanted to get in their cars and cruise to Chubby Checker, The Ventures or Paul Anka.

By age 10, Bert was supporting the family, playing clarinet and sax at the Roxy Burlesque, where he saw naked women before he was even bar mitzvah age.  Like Tarzana and Morganna — who, by the way, were at Stratton’s bar mitzvah party at the Shaker House Motel.  Stratton’s buddies crammed into the gals’ motel room like it was the Ringling Brothers’ clown car.  (At Stratton’s twentieth high school reunion, his bar mitzvah was voted the best of all time.)


While working the Roxy, Stratton met mobsters.  He became a regular at the Theatrical Grill, at the table of Shondor Birns.  Shon particularly liked Hungarian Rhapsody #3, which wasn’t that easy to play on clarinet.

As most Cleveland history buffs know, Shon was blown up by a car bomb on the West Side.  Then Danny Greene, another mobster, was blown up by a car bomb at the Cedar-Brainard medical building parking lot.

After those explosions, Stratton became head of The Mob in Cleveland.  That, plus his music gigs, was a living.  Every Friday morning Stratton baked casatta cakes for his Italian friends and challahs for his Jewish buddies.  A mentsh.

The big question:  Are readers in, say, Peoria, Illinois, ready for a book — or film? — about Cleveland mobsters, strippers and klezmers?

Mobsters, yes. (Kill the Irishman, opening tonight.) Strippers, of course.  Klezmers?

Note: The Roxy Burlesque ad is from the Plain Dealer, Feb. 27, 1966.
Text: “Continuous 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. 2 Shows in 1 — Live Burlesque Plus Adult Movie — Midnite Show Sat. Nite . . . Also Scarlette Dare . . . Minette Darcel . . . Michelle Starr. On Screen . . . Very “Adult” . . . A Drama of Violent Passions.”

And one more illustration by Ralph Solonitz . . .

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March 11, 2011   1 Comment



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


[If you came here because of the Cleveland Jewish News, to read about the Fed man’s mega-salary, please click  here for the relevant post.  If you’re here for other reasons — like you madly love this blog — simply go to the next line.]

Michael Winograd, 28, is one of the best klezmer clarinetists.  He plays a handcrafted, custom-ordered clarinet from Canada. The axe looks like a howitzer, sounds tres robust and weighs a ton. It should be in Cooperstown next to Babe’s bat.  Winograd‘s clarinet has extra keys to hit extra notes.   For instance, the octave key controls two tone holes — not just one — to get perfect intonation.

Miguel Winograd

Miguel Winograd

I saw Winograd’s instrument in Cleveland across a living room.  I could almost feel its emanations. Yes! A clarinetist and I were about 15 feet from Winograd, and my friend asked what kind of horn Winograd had.  I erroneously guessed it was an Albert system horn, like New Orleans jazz musicians used.

There are only about 15 Win-O-Grads in the world, according to Winograd.  (Stephen Fox Clarinets, Canada, makes the Win-O-Grad.  Fox typically calls the product an “extended-range C clarinet.”)

How does one compete against the Win-O-Grad?

Good question.

stratHere’s how: The Strat. The Strat clarinet. (Similar to a Strad violin, but several thousand dollars cheaper.)  The keys are molybdenum.  The pads are horsehair.  The bore – the inside of the horn – is swimming pool liner.   The axe is titanium and weighs nothing.

The Strat is excellent for jazz, klezmer or classical. The end of the clarinet (the bell) has a touch pad; press “1” and a music stand appears; press “2,” you get a pre-licked reed; press “3,” your choice of Heineken’s or Coors.

The Win-O-Grad is a shtik pipe cleaner compared to The Strat.


[Shtik means “piece.”]

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December 31, 2010   4 Comments


My apologies for not reviewing klezmer CDs more frequently.  I’m swamped with freebies.  (Not true.)  And my computer keyboard needs de-icing. There’s bad weather here; my keys don’t work for “cutting edge,” “retro” or “horrible.”

But no more excuses.  Here are the best — and worst — Jewish recordings of 2010.

1. Jews with Bagels. The Klezmatics cruise down the Middle of the Road here, looking for the big paycheck– the one with six bagels after the “1.” Sure hit singles: “Tiny Bagels in the Wine,” “Raisins and Maudlin” and “Shmear Me, Pearl.” A long shot: “Little Jew’s Coupe.” Vroom. Chanukah looks very good for the ‘Matics.

2. Aretha Franklin Sings Jewish Classics.  Aretha does “Avinu Malkeinu” better than Barbra.  Nice horns too.

3. We Can’t Hear You. Klezmer Conservatory Band.  This 30-year-old group still pops, babbles and spits like a newborn.  Check out “Jammies,” the band’s take on Dave Tarras’ “Silkene Pajamas.”  Recorded in a nursing home, in beds, in PJs.   Hef feel.  Swings.


Notso Kosher Records

4. A Hip Hop ChanukahSocalled/Josh Dolgin. A black rapper giggles at the end of this CD.  No doubt he is laughing at the yolds (fools) who bought this recording.   You can play this one on Chanukah, Yom Kippur and shabbes.  Nothing here.

5. Music for Young Lovers from Northern OH, Western PA and Western NY. This Yiddishe Cup recording — funded by NELFTY (Northeast Lakes Federation of Temple Youth) — is mostly lively waltzes and ballads for teens to cruise Lake Erie to.  Not sure if this recording will keep the kinder (children) from moving to Chicago and the East Coast, but it’s worth a try.

6. Ladder Me UpAndy Statman‘s homage to the New York Fire Department and The Chief.  If you buy this one, you can skip shul for six weeks. The Chief says so.

7. The Great Hang. Steven Greenman‘s triple CD.  All originals, recorded in a single weekend (i.e., the Great Hang) with Alan Bern, piano, and Alex Fedoriouk, cimbalom. Violinist Greenman stretches out by singing on five tracks and wind sprinting on two with heavy breathing.  Sexy.

8. Lee Tully vs. Billy Hodes. Reboot label.  Two obscure 1950s Jewish comedians come out swinging.  Tully’s version of “Essen” versus Hodes’ take.  Two Jewish fighters in the same ring.  You don’t see that every day unless you’re at an Orthodox shmorg (pre-wedding buffet).   Hodes wins in a TKO.

9.  Twelve new albums by John Zorn.   Why no Band-Aids with this boxed set, John?  These CDs are serrated!  Except the last one, which is a baggie of German beer bottle shards.

10. Chicago Fire Dept. Kurt Bjorling.  [Again with the fire department?]  Bjorling plugs in his clarinet and his wife, harpist Annette Bjorling.  “Hatikvah” like Hendrix at Woodstock, but on harp.

jason-rosenblatt11. I’m the Good Guy in the Black Hat. Shtreiml.  How many harp players – kippah wearers or not — can blow like Shtreiml’s Jason Rosenblatt?  Anyone care to challenge Li’l Jase for Master of Jewish Harmonica?  Larry Adler is dead, and Howard Levy doesn’t hang out on K Corner.  Long live Jasonele Rosenblatt!

12. Jerzy Kosinski’s Ketchup. Daniel Kahn.   What’s the difference between blood and ketchup?  What about pourability? What’s fiction, what’s friction? Are Heinz and Hunt’s the same thing? Where did green ketchup go? Glug. This recording is viscous and turgid. In four languages: German, Polish, Yiddish and English.

13. It’s All Greek. A Renaissance bootleg from England. This double CD has 56 never-released Mickey Katz songs recorded for the Greek market. Includes “We’re Now Open a Half Day on Sunday,” “Yo, Gert!” and “My Gyro is Dripping.”

14. Readings on the Klezmer Generation. Bert Stratton’s “Driving Mr. Klezmer” show, recorded live.  Stratton, on “spoken word,” sounds like he swallowed a bag of plastic Passover plagues.  Painful on first listening.  After four cups of wine, atrocious. 

15. The Jewish People are Mio.  From percussionist Roberto Rodriquez, who grew up playing bar mitzvah parties in Miami.  R-Rod is 100 percent Jewish here: all freylekhs all the time, with “olé” shout-outs every quarter hour.  This is the perfect gift for the person who has everything: a Latin Jewish alarm clock.  (Larry Harlow, El Judio Maravilloso, has bought a dozen.)

Please see the post below too.  It’s a travel video about England. Sort of.
Yiddishe Cup is in Columbus, Ohio this Sun. (Dec. 5) for a Chanukah bash/concert/dance at Cong. Tifereth Israel.  6 p.m.
Illustration by Ralph Solonitz.

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December 1, 2010   6 Comments


The Irish rank musicians with fiddle contests.  So do bluegrass players.  There is now even a $50,000 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

Jews established rankings at the Safed (Israel) Klezmer Festival, then stopped for some reason.  Former Klezmatics violinist Alicia Svigals won first prize.  This was more than a decade ago.

Nowadays the Jewish plucking order is out of order.  Is one’s Jewish music ranking determined by where one sits at klezmer conventions?  If you eat with the students, does that mean you’re amhoretz? (commoner/person of the earth).  If you sit with the German long-hairs, are you going on tour in Europe soon?  If you’re dining with the dentists, doctors and conference board members, do you have ulterior — biz! — motives?

At KlezKanada, one staff instructor kvetched she wasn’t paid enough for the walk-by consultations from the amhoretz in the dining hall — students asking for musical pointers and xeroxes of transcribed music.

I knew about that — pestering the staff.  I bothered virtuoso clarinetist and teacher Kurt Bjorling at KlezKamp on Christmas morning.  He was assembling a model train on his hotel room floor.  I asked about krechts (klezmer groan/sob) technique.  I wanted to be the klezmer king.  The Christian king’s birthday could wait a few minutes.


I am a klezmer king now.  (One of a few. I make the rankings.)

Here are the latest King of Klezmer rankings from The Challah Fame, Cleveland.  The ratings change daily, except Saturday.

#1.  Martin van de Ven.  Clarinet.  Canada.  Van Da Man.

#2.  Alan Douglass.  Keyboards.  Ohio.  His smash hit was “Gentile on My Mind”, 2004. [Listen.]

#3.  Ari Davidow.  Klez cyberczar.  Massachusetts.  Operates the KlezmerShack in the basement of the Brandeis student union by the Foosball tables.

#4.  Steven Greenman.  Violin.  Ohio.  Born Steven Chemlawn.

#5.  Annette Ezekiel Kogan.  Accordion.  New York.   Her name is longer than her skirt.  She donates letters from her skirt while playing.


#6.  Michael Alpert.  Violin/mustache. New York.

#7.  Gary Gould.  Clarinet.  California.  Bandleader to the stars’ sons’ bar mitzvah parties near, but not in, Santa Monica.

#8.  Cookie Segelstein.  Violin.  California.  Rugelach Queen.

#9.  Christian Dawid.  Clarinet.  Germany. In the States, Christian says, “Call me Dave.”

#10.  Cookie Lavagetto.  Third base.  Washington Senators.

#11.  Bert Stratton.  Clarinet.  Ohio.   Klez merch mogul.  Worldwide distributer of Yiddishe Cup mugs, baseball caps and T-shirts.

#12.  Margot Leverett.  Clarinet picker.  New York.  Former Miss Jewish Indiana.

#13.  Lori Cahan-Simon.  Vocals.  Ohio.  Produced Der Yiddisher Soul Train, KYW-TV, Philadelphia, 1967-1971.

#14.  Marc Adler.  Clarinet.  Rhode Island.  Invented the clarinet suck vac, available only at Adler’s Hardware, Providence, R.I.

#15.  Yale Strom.  Violin.  California.  Born University of Pennsylvania Strom.


1 of 2 posts for 10/6/10.  Please see the post below too.

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October 6, 2010   4 Comments


The last Midwest klezmer conference was in Chicago in 1998.  The Challah Fame in Cleveland wants to restart the Midwest klez conference. Not in Chicago, thank you.  And not in some bubble-tea town like Madison, Wisc., either.

KlezKleveland.  Check it out.  This year.  Or maybe in 2018.  (To be announced.)

KlezKleveland will be like KlezKamp and KlezKanada, but with more letters and more heymish — with a Midwestern “hi!” attitude.

Where: my house.

Accommodations: tent camping on my neighbor’s front lawn.  Or you can camp inside his house.  There’s no plumbing; his copper pipes are gone.  Nobody lives there.

There will be shower trucks and port-a-potties in the driveway.  Don Johns — only the best.

Kosher food available. (Queen Alice’s falafel truck.)

Gentiles welcome, of course.

Do I need to play an instrument to attend?

No, we’ll supply drumpets (combination trumpet and drums) made from leftover McDonald’s packaging.  Drumpets, by the way, were invented by Dr. Craig Woodson, a former Yiddishe Cup drummer.

Do I need to know Yiddish?

No, but be familiar with at least five Yiddish words besides bagel, schmuck, meshuge, chutzpah and putz.


Yes.  Eco-friendly Midwestern teachers like Steven Greenman, violin; Adrianne Greenbaum (originally from Akron, Ohio), flute; and Yosef Greenberger, a Cleveland keyboardist.

“Klezmer Guy,” the KlezKleveland director, will lecture on klezmer biz — for instance, how to deal with bar mitzvah moms.  He will participate in a mock-u-drama with a real mom, Alice Stratton . . .

Alice:  I’m worried about my son’s bar mitzvah party.  His friends, will they like klezmer?

Klezmer Guy:  Of course they’ll like it.  Kids love klezmer! They’re sick of rap.

There will be daily aerobics and spinning sessions on the deck next door with music by KnishKnash, a NYC klez-fusion band and eatery.  Free kikhl (cookies) and wine coolers for all.

In the evening, teens perform an experimental Yiddish-inflected drama about scrap and Midwest Jews, adapted from Leonard Tennenbaum’s memoir Junk Is Not a Four-Letter Word. The teens wear turtlenecks, Speedo trunks and Groucho glasses.

Students in the fencing class wear uniforms reminiscent of prewar German Jewish sports clubs.  The outfits are black Yiddishe Cup T-shirts, provided.  Bring your own trousers.  White, please.  Not cream-colored.  White, meine Herren!

KlezKleveland fencing instructors Daniel Ducoff (L.) and Alan Douglass.

KlezKleveland fencing instructors Daniel Ducoff (L.) and Alan Douglass.

Yosef Greenberger, Cleveland’s Ortho one-man-band keyboard wizard, will demonstrate proprietary synth settings that emit odors, such as latke smells for Chanukah songs and cinnamon for Christmas carols. (Gotta eat.)

Local experts will lecture on “co-territorial” music.  Polka DJ Tony Petkovsek speaks on “Johnny Pecon and Molly Picon: Mishpocha?”  [Family.]

Cleveland accordionist Walt Mahovlich leads the hands-on Gypsy music workshop: “Doin’ the Continental.”

Yiddishe Cup plays during lunch breaks.  Attendees leave knowing at least one Mickey Katz tune, “16 Tons.”  (“You load 16 tons of hard salami, rolled beef, corned beef, and hot pastrami . . .”)

KlezKleveland ends with a fireworks display over Shaker Lakes.  Look for Chagall-like goats and Hasidic violinists in the sky.

And look for the KlezKleveland flyer in your mailbox.  Please look regularly for the next eight years.

1 of 2 posts for 8/11/10.  Please see the post below too.
KlezKanada — a good time — is Aug. 16-22 in Lantier, Quebec, near Montreal.
Thurs. Aug 19, Yiddishe Cup plays on the lawn at Wiley Middle School, University Hts., Ohio.  The concert is  free. Not only that, you get a free Klondike ice cream bar from the city just for showing up.  You’re ahead, even if you don’t like klezmer.   7 p.m.  Indoors if raining.

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August 11, 2010   6 Comments


A handful of klezmer musicians have PhDs and do klezmer-related research.  Hankus Netsky, Walter Zev Feldman, Joel Rubin, Jeffrey Wollock, and probably a few others I’m not aware of.

These men have put in time at the library as well as in the practice studio.  Some speak Yiddish and other foreign languages.  They know  obscure facts.  For instance, there was a close link between klezmer musicians and barbers, “considered one of the lower [professions] among the Jews . . . The barber was considered slightly below the server — the professional baker at weddings — and equal to the midwife.”  (Walter Zev Feldman, “Klezmer Musicians of Galicia,” Polin, Studies in Polish Jewry, Vol. 16, 2003)

These klez researchers often interview old people.  Hankus Netsky — he is so good at interviewing old people he should run a nursing home.  His PhD thesis was on the culture of old-school, 20th-century Philadelphia Jewish wedding musicians.

Interestingly, Netsky and the other PhDs are now kind of old themselves.  Fifties and up.  (Hankus is The Sage.)

For my research (non-academic), I focused on these new klez docs and their peers.  I bought recordings from nearly every klezmer band at the end of the 20th century.  I have CDs and tapes from Di Gojim, a Dutch goy band; Aufwind, a kraut klez band; and even the Alaska Klezmer Band.

Then I gave up. Too much product.  Every Beryl, Meryl and Shmeryl klezmer band was putting out recordings.  Yiddishe Cup — four CDs from them alone.

However, I did keep up with klezmer literature.  Real easy.  Not much product.  There hasn’t been a book on klezmer in at least eight years. The book-buying market spoke and said “No market.”

Here, for example, are some manuscripts looking for publishers:

Call Me Henry . . . No, Hank.  An in-depth look at American Jewish identity by Henry “Hank” Sapoznik, a klezmer and old time banjo player.

100 Jewish Music Insults by Pete Sokolow, pianist.  Putdowns that really work. Culled from the first 10 minutes of a five-hour interview with Sokolow.  Try these the next time you’re at a klezmer jam session:

1. What’s your phone number? Junior congregation needs a clarinetist.
2. You’re slicker than butter on matzo, but there’s no salt.
3. Tighten your neck strap.  Tighter.
4. You couldn’t find freygish with a GPS.  [Freygish is a mode.]
5. I make desk lamps. Let me see your clarinet.

Where Klezmer Meets Corn, a memoir by “Klezmer Guy,” about a klez band’s one-night stands (concerts primarily) in the Midwest.  Some senior sex.

My Tsimbl is in Tune, a mystery by Pete Rushefsky, tsimblist.

Tattoo Jews by Mark Rubin, bass player.  A true-life account of large drawn-on Texas Jews taking on Los Tigres del Norte for bar mitzvah share in Ciudad Juarez.

Where’s Mincha, Helmut? funded by the German National Tourist Board’s “Deutschland ♥ Jews” initiative.  Subtitled “A Jewish Musician’s Guide to Germany.”  By Joel Ruben with Rita Ottens.   [Mincha is the afternoon service.]

Friends of Molly.  A steamy romance about a chick minyan — Friends of Molly — that reconnoiters annually at a Catskill hotel sauna.  By Eve Sicular, bandleader of the Isle of Klezbos.  [A minyan is 10 Jews.]

Just Say “You?” by Michael Wex, Canadian Yiddishist and writer.  Includes  dining-room seating charts from historic klez conferences.  Who sat with whom, why, and what happened post–mandelbroit and coffee. [Mandelbroit is Jewish biscotti.]

Old is the New Thin by Hankus Netsky.  How to improve your love life by looking and acting 10 years older than you really are.  Comes with a CD, Music to Suffer By, from the New Thin Department, New England Conservatory.

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April 7, 2010   8 Comments


Yiddishe Cup is not a klezmer band.  Our recordings — and our stage shows — are dark and light, funny and serious.  Check us out.  We stretch out.  Every tune is different.

Klezmer is a clichéd marketing term, and we aren’t a party to it.

We aren’t even Jewish.  I’m not.  I gave it up for Lent.

Y Cup — formerly Yiddishe Cup, formerly Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Band — fits perfectly into the world music/jazz scene.

I admire musicians who, when you hear their recordings, you immediately know who is playing.  Like “Hey, that’s Arnie!”  You know it’s Arnie by the hogs snorting in the background.

Y Cup has a new signature piece: “Mayor of West 83rd Street.”  You can smell natural gas when the tune starts.  Y Cup is a band with a very, very volatile — and totally unique — sound: intricate arrangements and constant shiftings of the lead.  We bring out different colors, different dynamics, different brews.  At a six-hour wedding, an open bar is imperative.

We write so many tunes, we can’t even name them. We gave up trying. Our newest tunes are 10-56, 10-57, 10-58.  Then ’10’ stands for 2010.

Our album in progress is titled No Name, but that is so lame.  Maybe we’ll call it 10-10-10 and release it that day.  October 10 is going to be a huge wedding date.  If we don’t have a gig that day, we’ll disband and call the album Thank You for Your Kindnesses.

Y Cup is not a star show. It’s not about one musician standing above.  The rest of the band — the sidemen — I could replace them with one quick phone call — and I’d probably have a better group too — but I don’t.  The whole is less than the sum of the parts.  Add it up.

My musicians have skills.  One guy can belch whole notes.  Doesn’t feel academic either.

Non-Jews love our music.  Non-Christians too . . . Jewish people.

When I told my wife I was leaving Judaism, she said, “Then why are you saying a brocha over the wine?”  I told her, “It’s Friday night, that’s why.  TGIF.”

Klezmer is a niche I refuse to get boxed into.

We used to do klezmer, I’ll admit.  We played it on occasion.  Even Charlie Parker played klezmer at bar mitzvahs.  In his later days he didn’t.  Granted, he died at 34.

Y Cup plays what Parker would if he were playing bar mitzvahs today. That’s our esthetic.

1 of 2 posts for 3/3/10.  Please see the next post too.

Readers’ advisory:  This post, “Our Esthetic: We are not a Klezmer Band,” is fiction.   Made up. 

See “Driving Mr. Klezmer” at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Beachwood, Ohio, Wed. March 24, 7 p.m.  Stratton, clarinet and spoken word (i.e. this blog), and Douglass, chauffeur and fuel-injected keyboards, plus vocals.  Jewish and American music.  DUO.

Yiddishe Cup at the College of Wooster (Ohio).  Sat. March 27, 9 p.m.
Yiddishe Cup / Klezmer Guy has a  Facebook fan page.

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March 3, 2010   5 Comments


Last month, when Oakwood Club, a Cleveland Heights yekkie (German Jewish) country club, went under, the powers-that-be (charitable foundations, city government, the club’s board of trustees) came to Yiddishe Cup for ideas to reinvent the place.  The machers were considering a Jewish theme park.

Yiddishe Cup said no thanks.  We weren’t going to participate in a Yiddishland Epcot.  Not our thing.  We won’t even play Fiddler on the Roof unless the audience begs.  And they do.  (And we play it.)

The Oakwood Club machers begged Yiddishe Cup to take a second look at the theme park idea.  We did.

The Yiddishland theme vied with the steering committee’s Plan B, called “Oakwood Park, an Oasis for People and Wildlife.”  That plan was just a front for owls, hawks, woodpeckers, songbirds, foxes, flying squirrels and dragonflies.  The old golf course would become a meadow.

Songbirds don’t pay the bills.

A Friday night klezmer shabbat would work.  It would feature a very lite, ecumenical Yiddishe Cup. Yiddishe Cup has a piece — “Friday Night Service-able” — with no words, like a jazz mass.

We’ve done the number a few times.  It’s basically a D-minor drone with a lot of modal improvising on top.  The composition is 45 minutes to an hour.  We’ve had a few listeners/worshippers “fall out,” or faint.

A Yiddishe Cup klezmer shabbat would draw visitors from Columbus, Pittsburgh and Detroit.  And they would want to stay over.  So we would put them up at Oakwood. We would find space.

Beat this: For $450 per person, the out-of-towner gets a Friday night klezmer shabbat (with brisket and fries), the hotel room, and a Saturday morning round-robin tennis tournament with kiddush (sanctification/vino) and coconut bars. Followed by a nap, followed by golf and swimming.

Need an extra day? Take a hike on the Tribute to Reform Rabbis exercise trail.

Sunday afternoon would be Jewish wedding central, featuring the house band, the one and only . . .

Readers’ advisory: This post is made up.  Fiction. Based on the fact Oakwood Club is closing and is for sale.

1 of 2 posts for 2/10/10.  Please see the post below too.

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February 10, 2010   8 Comments


This just in . . . the lineup for the klezmer clarinetists’ all-star game:

Andy Statman ss

Good hands in the altissimo register.

Marcel Salomon 1b

More Dutch than Honus Wagner. Flying Dutchman II.

Margot Leverett 2b

Good with grace notes.

David Krakauer rf

Mr. Twinkle Toes. Moves lightly over the clarinet break.

Don Byron cf

Eccentric, yet loved. “That’s just Don being Don.”

Michael Winograd c

Young enough to crouch for three hours.

Ilene Stahl 3b

Best Jewish third-baseman since Al Rosen.

Glenn Dickson lf

Ripken-esque.  Can play the entire Nutcracker without water.

Kurt Bjorling dh

Can drive notes to any field: right, left, jazz, klez.

Moshe Berlin p

Has super-wiggly vibrato and Hoyt Wilhelm longevity.

Joel Rubin coach

Two-time NCAA klezmer coach of the year.

Hankus Netsky mgr

Best first name.  Better even than “Honus.”  It doesn’t matter  Hankus is  more of a sax/piano guy.

National anthem by Yiddishe Cup:

” . . . And the party planner’s red glare,
The seltzer bottles bursting in air.”
2 of 2 posts for 7/8/09

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July 8, 2009   5 Comments