Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

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


 
 

Category — Klezmer

“SPOKEN WORD” SPOKE TO ME

 
Myers, an independent-living facility in Beachwood, Ohio, had a front awning that read Myers Apartments. Why the word Apartments? Myers was eight stories and was an apartment building. It didn’t look like a swimming pool. I had a bad attitude going into Myers. I was determined not to play my usual Yiddish music standards, like “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalaika.” Instead, I would read blog entries about real estate. My pianist, Alan Douglass, would follow up by singing “Dear Landlord” by Bob Dylan.

One Myers resident, seated in the front row, got up to leave halfway through the show. I suggested she stick around for “Gentile on My Mind” — a Yiddishe Cup tune — but she left. Alan and I went into “Because of You,” a Tony Bennett classic. That placated some people, but not her. And then I read more bloggie stuff. My wife, Alice, followed with some “oy-robics” — Jewish chair exercises. (“Turn your neck to the right. Kvetch to your neighbor.” That sort of thing.)

Afterward, Alice and I went to a Chinese restaurant to recap the show. We went to Ho Wah, where my mother and I had often dined. If my mother were still alive, she would not have liked the Myers show. Alice said,  “Easy on the prose and Bob Dylan next time.”

I didn’t listen to Alice. I followed up with a similar program at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, where I melded real estate prose and klezmer. After the Schmaltz gig, I ran into poet Barry Zucker at Whole Foods. He was passing out ban-pesticides literature. Barry told me he often recited poetry to music at open readings. I thought the poetry-and-jazz combination had died out sixty years ago. (By the way, Barry looked like Allen Ginsberg.)

Dig this . . . Readings on the Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac, with Steve Allen on piano, produced by Bill Randle. That record hit me hard in college. Bill Randle — the Kerouac producer — had been a Cleveland DJ who moved to New York. [No, he traveled to NYC on weekends.] Randle used to play Yiddish Cup’s version of “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” on his Cleveland radio show in the 1990s. I was a fan of Randle mostly because of the Kerouac record. I even knew Randle’s favorite pants were Levi’s corduroys. (He mentioned that in a newspaper column he wrote.) Randle helped discover Elvis. Randle knew everybody. On his radio show, he would name-drop like crazy. Very big on Johnny Ray.

I borrowed the Readings on The Beat Generation record from the South Quad dorm library at Michigan. I didn’t live at South Quad and wasn’t allowed to borrow records; I snuck the LP out under my jacket, dubbed it onto a cassette, and returned the record. Kerouac read a story called “The History of Bop.” To repeat, Steve Allen on piano. Memorable.

“Spoken word” — I liked it. I did it again. I read prose with the Klezmer Guy Trio, which was pianist Alan Douglass, singer Tamar Gray, and me on prose (and clarinet). We performed at Nighttown, the premier  jazz club in Cleveland, a couple times in the 2010s. Jim Wadsworth, the Nighttown booker, said to me at our final performance, “You know why this place is full tonight? Because of Tamar, your singer.” Thanks, Jimbo.

Here’s a spoken-word clip from 2010, live from the Maltz Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38RXqfxYJr4

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November 15, 2023   3 Comments

CAR AND SAX TALK

 
My 2019 Subaru Legacy is the safest car in the world. I know you don’t care, but bear with me. The car has many blinkers and warning signals, and that’s why I bought it. Five years ago I fell asleep at the wheel of my Ford Fusion and drifted across a two-lane road into an oncoming car. I was tired. It was 2:30. Two-thirty pm, not 2:30 am! I was going about 25 mph and hit a Greek immigrant’s car head on. The accident happened on Larchmere Boulevard, right on the Cleveland-Shaker Heights line. Efficient Shaker cops showed up. Nobody got hurt! The accident was in front of Shaker Auto Body. I just wheeled my wrecked car right into the shop. Beautiful.

My red Ford Fusion and a Greek man on his phone

I bought the 2019 Subaru with all the bells and whistles shortly after the accident. The car is good, but the battery not so good. The battery recently went dead for the second time in four months. There’s a class-action suit against Subaru for bad batteries. I’m taking the car to the dealer, or maybe I’ll pay my son Ted to take it. I can’t stand going to car dealerships.

More car talk (and some sax talk) . . .  Last month I was at a family wedding in a town halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. (The wedding was at a winery. Nobody gets married at synagogue anymore, have you noticed? It’s always at a winery or a barn.) Uber — which my son Jack reserved ahead of time — didn’t show up at the hotel the morning after the wedding to take Alice and me to the airport. Instead, Uber sent us a message at 6 am: “Sorry.” Uber couldn’t find a driver. I should have hired a car service but I didn’t think of that. My daughter, Lucy, did, but too late, I guess. My son Ted booked Alice and me a flight out of Palm Springs because we couldn’t get to LAX on time. Ted drove us to Palm Springs and got a flat tire.  Can you believe we got a flat on the way to the airport? I lent Ted my AAA card; he hung around the  car; and Alice and I got an Uber.

Our flight out of Palm Springs was delayed, so I baggage-checked my saxophones. (My band had played the wedding. Terrific celebration, by the way.) The airlines could mangle my axes, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want to lug the heavy instruments around Palm Springs airport all afternoon.

My alto sax is student-level, so no big loss if it got destroyed. My tenor, however, is a classic, The Martin Tenor. I bought it around 1964 from a music teacher. When I first got that axe, it reeked of ciggy smoke, and its pads were brown from phlegm. That’s why I never took up smoking. At the Palm Springs airport, I plastered the tenor case with “Fragile” stickers. My clarinet, I kept in my backpack. It’s not heavy.

The saxes arrived in Cleveland about 11 hours later in fine shape. Better shape than me, actually. I’ve kept a couple “Fragile” stickers on the tenor case to remind me of my adventure.

By the way, the Subaru guys didn’t fix the “parasitic drainage” on my car battery. I might get a trickle charger. whatever that is.

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November 1, 2023   4 Comments

SOME HIP-SPANIC GIGS

 
Yiddishe Cup played on the Rio Grande for 2,500 cheering Mexican-Americans at the Chamizal National Monument, El Paso, Texas.

And yo– minus the band — played south of the border for 30 stone-faced Mexican ranchers. I heard a banda group in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, northern Mexico, They were on a side street. I heard a lot of horns, including a tuba. The Mexican musicians were playing for a horse auction. One of the musicians lent me his clarinet. I have seen better clarinets and reeds. I played horribly because of that reed. My son the drummer and I played a Meron-style nign. The Mexicans clapped. My family was on a hiking trip in northern Mexico in 2008; that’s how this banda thing happened.

I would like to play more Latin gigs. Kapelye, the klezmer band, once did a wedding in Mexico City. And Golem has played in Mexico a few times. To Yiddishe Cup’s crédito, we have played not once, but twice, on the Rio Grande in El Paso.

2004

Aside: in Cleveland I knew a dancer, Susana Weingarten de Evert, who grew up in Mexico City. Do all Jews in Mexico City have names like that?

I hope so.

Yo recuerdo when a Cleveland mom arranged a Jewish wedding for her daughter in El Salvador. I told the mom to fly down Yiddishe Cup. I said, “I’m sure the Jewish groom’s family can afford it, or they wouldn’t still be there.” She agreed to the “they could afford it,” but not the Yiddishe Cup part.

Yiddishe Cup has cornered the Latin-American Jewish doctor market in Cleveland — a market that fits into the backseat of a Toyota Camry. We did a gig for a Mexican Jewish doctor who headed the Cleveland Clinic evil eye center (Cole Eye Institute). Latin Jews party second only to Russian Jews.

Yiddishe Cup’s Latin repertoire goes from “Oye Como Va” to “El Rey.” We played an Ecuadorian Jewish wedding in Cleveland where I explained the chair-lifting to the groom’s gentile parents. I said in Spanish: “You will see people seated in chairs in the wind.”

Yiddishe Cup’s maximum hip-spanic gig was when we played “La Bamba” for an encore at our second outdoor concert in El Paso.

I miss those Latin gigs. We haven’t done any lately. For the record, I hope to sing “Bésame Mucho” tomorrow night at Yiddishe Cup’s gig in University Heights, Ohio. There is a clamor (somewhere) for the Yiddishe Cup/Latin thing.

Yidd Cup plays 7 pm tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 17) at Walter Stinson Park, 2301 Fenwick Rd., University Heights, Ohio. Free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.

 

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August 16, 2023   1 Comment

ISRAEL INDEPENDENCE DAY, KLEZMER AND ME

 
At various Yiddishe Cup gigs, I was often surprised how the crowd would ask for Israeli tunes more than klezmer (Eastern European) tunes. Jews in Cleveland wanted Israeli music, got that? OK, I gave it to them. (Aside: classic Israeli tunes are easier to play than klezmer, which is instrument-based and leans toward virtuosic. Also, klezmer rhythms are typically more complex than classic Israeli tunes.)

Yiddishe Cup learned a lot of Israeli tunes, enough that many Israelis assumed we could belt out contemporary (not “classic”) Israeli music.

Israeli music —  in the trade — is known as “Tel Aviv bus station music.” We had no clue how to play it. Luckily there was an Israeli singer in Cleveland, Shlomo Ziton, to cover that niche for 0ur town’s Israeli-American contingent.

On one Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) I got in a dispute with a dance enthusiast who complained I wasn’t playing enough Israeli folk dances. “Too much klezmer,” he said. So I worked out a formula: play Israeli chalutzim (pioneer) classics, and for contemporary Israeli stuff plug in my iPhone or CD (depending on the decade). Very little klezmer.

Happy birthday, Israel!

And by the way, there was an article by Daniel Hoffman in Haaretz on Monday headlined “Why Do Israelis Still Hate Klezmer Music?” (Paywall.) “Secular Israelis have long rejected klezmer, an overt, emotional expression of Ashkenazi Jewish musical culture. Sometimes the strength of that opposition – and resistance to anything Yiddish, religious or associated with the Holocaust – knocks me flat.”

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April 26, 2023   1 Comment

THE “KLEZMER GUY” QUIZ

 

1. What was the name of Yiddishe Cup before it was Yiddishe Cup?

A. Wild Horses 

B. It has always been Yiddishe Cup 

C. Kosher Spears

D. Funk A Deli

___

2. Who invented klezmer? 

A. The Jews 

B. The Klezmorim (Berkeley, Calif.)

C. Henry Sapoznik

___

3. What was Toby Stratton’s legal first name? 

A. Toby 

B. Wayne 

C. Theodore

___

4.  What did Toby want buried in his coffin? 

A. Chlortrimeton allergy pills 

B.  a .22 rifle 

C. The Wall Street Journal

D. None of above

___

5. How do musicians in Yiddishe Cup address their bandleader? 

A. Ding-a-ling 

B. Pissant 

C. Sir

___

6.  Yiddishe Cup has played

A. Brooklyn, New York

B. Brooklyn, Ohio 

C. Louisville, Kentucky

___

7. A landlord’s biggest problem is

A. water leaks 

B. bugs 

C. tenants in “the industry” (food-service business)

___

8. Clarinetists are 

A. cool 

B. not cool

___

9. Toby’s favorite sport was

A. tennis 

B. counting Jews in restaurants 

C. softball

___

10. A musician’s main interest is

A. music 

B. the food situation

C. the OT situation. (Is there overtime?)

___

11. (Tiebreaker) What was Toby’s blood type? 

A. O  

B. AB  

C. A

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February 28, 2023   2 Comments

THE RAG TRADE

 
There are quite a few black Yiddishe Cup T-shirts out there. I made about 500 of them. I have a photo of Mount St. Helens, Wash., man in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. Maybe I played his wedding. I have a photo of a Missoula, Mont., man wearing a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt.

Newlyweds and bar mitzvah moms got the tees for free. Sometimes the bat mitzvah celebrant — the kid, herself — got the tee if I thought the girl was woman enough to handle the peer harassment.

I saw a hipster on Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. I asked him where he got the tee. He said at a thrift store for $1.

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December 28, 2022   3 Comments

SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO

 
My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York. That was her first one. She had always refused road trips. Alice made two beginner’s mistakes. She talked too much. Talking wears you out. Also, she did not catnap.

We played the gig in Buffalo. The whole undertaking was 13 hours (7 hours driving there and back, and two hours of set up and tear down. Oh, and we played music. Alice did the dance-leading. Alice aged a year that day, she said. She said she had been “hit by a truck.”

Pace yourself, Alice. Take catnaps. Drink a lot of fluids.  Eat an apple.

Same subject, sort of:

I used to blame Taco Bell for post-gig illnesses. T-Bell was poisoning me. T-Bell was slipping me spoiled tacos.

My migraines were always on Tuesdays after out-of-town gig weekends. I’d return the rental van on Monday morning and dispute fender dings; then go to my real estate job to talk about burst water pipes and late rents.  When I’d come home on Monday evenings, my sleep cycle would be all off.

I haven’t done a run-out (one-day road trip, no overnight) in a few years. I don’t miss it.

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December 21, 2022   6 Comments

INSULT A BAND HERE

Several musicians in my band freaked out when a critic described Yiddishe Cup’s Klezmerized recording as “schizophrenic.” The reviewer said a ton of nice stuff about the recording and then noted we were schizophrenic because we attempted so many different styles.

“Schizophrenic” — the word — was all the band members could think about. Grow up. You need the skin of a rhino to be a performer. Everybody is a critic, and if you aren’t a critic, here are some tips to make you one:

The best way to knee-cap a jazz group: “They don’t swing.”

A blues band: “No soul.”

A klezmer band: “Dorks in vests.”

I have an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, “Who’s your favorite band?”

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November 30, 2022   1 Comment

DEATH WISH AT
THE NURSING HOME

I was sick of playing “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika” at the senior facility. Instead, I read neo-beatnik blog pieces. This was a death wish. A woman in the front row walked out. I suggested she stick around, but she wouldn’t. My keyboard player, Alan Douglass, told me to change the program. He said, “The Who went to their greatest hits whenever they faltered.”

Too late. Even my mother — long dead — would have disliked this show. My wife, Alice, was there; she  panned it, too.

I screwed up. I needed to get rid of the Ferlinghetti/Kerouac prosody shtick. Alice and I rehashed the gig at a Chinese restaurant afterward. I told her, “I feel like I just played Sowinski Playground.” (Sowinski is a Cleveland city park where rapes occurred regularly in the 1960s.)

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November 16, 2022   1 Comment

JEWISH MUSIC
AND JEWISH SPORTS

When I was growing up, “Jewish music” was like saying “Jewish cars.” It didn’t mean anything.

On second thought, “Jewish cars” did mean something. It meant “The Boat” — an Olds 98 owned by the father of a high school friend, Mark. The Boat had electric windows and was oceanic. Mark was richer than the rest of us, I think. His house had a doorbell that lit up.

“Jewish music” . . . I learned about that at the house of another high school friend, Shelly Gordon. His parents knew a lot about Israeli and Yiddish music. Shelly’s parents were Labor Zionists (Poale Zion). They seemed to know every classic Israeli tune and how to dance and sing it. The family attended a Yiddish camp, Farband, in Michigan. (Clarification, in high school I didn’t hang out much at Shelly’s house. When I was in my 30s, I went to his house a lot to learn about Jewish music.)

Shelly’s parents didn’t “know from sports.” That was strange because Shelly wound up a star athlete. He played tennis for Ohio State and eventually became a tennis pro in Israel. He never took a private tennis lesson but he gave a lot of  private lessons.

Shelly didn’t care about Jewish music. He cared about the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes and Cleveland Indians. In Israel he logged on at about 3 a.m. to catch Cleveland sports scores. He had a yarmulke that read “Cleveland Cavaliers.”

Shelly’s dad, Sanford, knew all the Israeli tunes and never played sports. In fact Mr. Gordon was so oblivious to sports he didn’t even sign Shelly up for Little League. Mr. Gordon was not an immigrant or DP either; he was a NASA scientist and full-blown Zionist. Baseball meant nothing to Israelis, so it meant nothing to Mr. Gordon. Shelly went to a Zionist camp, Habonim, in Michigan.

Shelly has been a tennis pro in Jerusalem for decades. He still doesn’t know much Jewish music. (Come on, he must!)

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November 9, 2022   1 Comment

BUCKEYE BATTLE CRY

My father had one record album, an Ohio State marching band LP. No, that was my record. He bought it for me. My dad had no LPs. My dad had stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Lines, when he was at Ohio State. Air lines meant train line back then. An air line was the shortest distance between two points – the way the crow flies.

My father didn’t mind I wound up at the U. of Michigan. He wasn’t a nutty Buckeye.

My band had a trumpet player who was a rabid Buckeyes fan. At one afternoon bar mitzvah party, I gave him time off during the gig to watch part of the OSU-Michigan game. The other musicians were nonplussed. They did not understand that the trumpeter had been in the OSU marching band and had attended every single Ohio State bowl game, including the Tostitos Bowl. My bandmates did not know my father had given me one album, The Ohio State University Marching Band featuring “Buckeye Battle Cry.”

My bandmates are still talking about the trumpeter’s “absence,” and it’s been years. Look, the football game was supposed to start at 3 p.m. but the TV honchos moved the start-time up to noon at the last minute. I doubt the trumpeter would have booked a gig if he had known it would conflict with the OSU-Michigan game.

One more thing . . . Simchat Torah (which just ended) sometimes gets hairy because of its occasional conflict with Indians/Guardians playoff games. I’ve got a nursing-home gig tonight and would have liked to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but I don’t see the point now with the Guardians out of  it.

Go Bucks.

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October 19, 2022   4 Comments

MESSY CHICKEN

A friend, who had moved away, rented a room at a hotel by I-271, in suburban Cleveland, to sit shiva. He hung around that room for a couple days. Visitors knocked on the door, which was kept ajar. Ten Jews in a suite by I-271, chanting Hebrew prayers. Subversive. My friend left town after three days. It was no picnic, that hotel, except for a picnic I brought in: $204 worth of chicken Marsala and sides from a kosher caterer named Norman.

I knew Norman from klezmer gigs. Way back he had thrown dirty plates all over the kitchen floor at the Crawford Auto Museum. So many plates, my band couldn’t roll our musical gear and carts over the jumble. It was like a Greek party center at 4 a.m.

Then a wedding client asked me about Norman’s work, and I said, “I wouldn’t use him.” She told Norman. Thanks. Norman called me, bitching and moaning. He said his messy auto-museum gig had been his first off-premises catering job. I hadn’t known that. I told him I wouldn’t bad-rap him again. It wasn’t loshn hora (evil gossip), my trashing him. You’re obligated to tell the truth when asked for a business reference.

I spent $204 on Norman for hot food at an I-271 shiva. Everything is kosher now between Norman and me, I think.

(Norman is a pseudonym)

Next week’s post will go up on Thursday instead of Wednesday because of Yom Kippur.

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September 28, 2022   3 Comments

TURN IT DOWN!

The bride asked if Yiddishe Cup would play quietly. I said, “Great! I’m in two Facebook groups, ‘I Hate Cilantro’ and ‘I Hate Loud Music.’”

I attended another wedding — as a guest — where the band blasted like they were at Noriega’s palace. Then a DJ in an adjoining room (behind a party-center folding partition) blasted like he was shooting a cannon.

There were about 225 guests at that wedding. I was the only one bugged? Apparently. My wife thought the band was terrific. She said, “They are like a magnet, pulling me to the dance floor.” (My wife was a like magnet pulling me to the dance floor.)

The band had no keyboard player or bass player. The lead singer cued backing tracks on his laptop. The drummer faked playing a lot.

My late rabbi, Michael Hecht, could have been the president of the “I Hate Loud Music” society. Every time Yiddishe Cup played at his shul, Congregation Beth Am, he would ask us to turn it down. One time my sound guy/pianist said, “I can’t turn it down any more. The sound system is completely off.”

Rabbi Hecht’s understudy is me. Hey, turn it down!

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August 24, 2022   3 Comments

OFFICIAL OLD GUY

I’m an official old guy. An arts agency made a documentary about roots music in Ohio, and a bunch of baby-boomers, including me, was the subject. We were the old fogies on the porch, picking away at authentic instruments. The guys in my “old guy” pantheon are all dead: Muddy Waters, Dave Tarras, Mickey Katz.

I saw a 92-year-old piano player. He isn’t dead.

I still get nervous when I play. I’m not dead.

I once played an “old guy” record-release party at Nighttown, a local club. Something like my 1,028th Yiddishe Cup gig. I played a Moldovan folk piece in 7/16 and stopped halfway through. Man, I must have been playing it in 9/16 or 10/16. I was so ahead of the game. I was freaked out by my fellow musicians in the room.

Me and nervous go way back. My first recitals at Victory Park School in South Euclid, Ohio, were debacles. I had memorized my tunes and then forgot them. Let’s take it from the top again, shall we, Bert? Worse, a violin prodigy always followed me. Philip Setzer. He wound up in the Emerson String Quartet.

I just bought a ticket to see Setzer next month at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I also wrote him a fan letter, including the tag “you want to meet for coffee?” I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance that’ll happen.

I really botched “Theme of Exodus” one year at Victory Park. Phil probably followed that with some slick Mozart concerto. Both Setzer’s parents were violinists in the Cleveland Orchestra. I have no idea why they lived in South Euclid. They were total Heights profile, right? If I meet up with Phil, I’ll ask him, “Why did your parents live in South Euclid?”

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert tomorrow (7 p.m. Thurs. Aug. 18) at Walter Stinson Community Park, 2301 Fenwick Road, University Heights, Ohio. Bring a chair or blanket.

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August 17, 2022   1 Comment

CLARINET FOMO

I turned down a gig. I rarely do that. Try new things, blah, blah. I was asked to play clarinet for the play “Di Yiddishe Vayb” (The Jewish Wife) at the BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival, Cleveland.

The money stunk: $180 for six services (meaning two rehearsals and four shows). Plus, I wasn’t too keen on the play’s description — something about “anti-fascism,” Brecht and Chelm. But Bertolt (me) said yes, initially.

Then, a couple weeks later, the start times of the gig(s)  and the venue changed. We went from the Hermit Club — a cool place — to a hill on Public Square (not so unique). I emailed the play people, “Somebody changed the ground rules on me!” I couldn’t make the new times, which was true.

An actor emailed me, “Yeah, the scheduling for a fringe show is kind of wacky; thanks for bearing with us while you could. We’ll look into other options, and please do let us know if anything changes on your end!”

Then, the other day, I got a generic sort of email, requesting a klez-oriented clarinet player for the play, for $450. The price of poker had gone up! I texted the playwright and said I’d do the gigs for $450; I would rearrange my schedule, which wouldn’t be easy. But the play people had already found somebody else.

The first show is tomorrow. If you attend, please let me know how the hill it is, and who’s on clarinet?

I should have done it. Or maybe not. Some FOMO here.

Edit / update:

I went to the play last night and it stunk. Yippee! I would have died if I had had to sit through that show six times. The actor was great, but the script was not-too-funny Chelm stories spiced with references to Nazis. Experimental, and a failure. The clarinet player had a boring part, and she didn’t play loud enough. You’ve got to blast when you’re outdoors. When I was in New Orleans a few years ago, I sat in with local jazz heroes on the main square there; afterward, the bandleader said to me, “Play with some balls!” So I went home to Cleveland and got a louder clarinet barrel. I’m glad I went to “Di Yiddishe Vayb” last night. No mo’ FOMO.

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July 20, 2022   No Comments

A FAN’S NOTE

I got a fan letter yesterday.

Dear Bert,
My bucket list is to see you perform again. I’ve had serious medical challenges for 10 years & I want to see you perform & I want to replace my CDs, as they are worn out from overuse. Are you still writing? Are you still touring? Please let me know what your schedule is. I want to see you perform at least one more time. You have brought so much joy to so many & still do thru your CDs. God bless you.
Dianne

Dianne attached a photo of me and her together. “Me” was this guy:

b stratton cruise pianist pic

Bert Stratton — the guy above — is a pianist and singer on the Caribbean Princess cruise ship.

I wrote Diane back: “wrong bert stratton.”

Caribbean Princess Bert Stratton is my Googleganger.

A few years ago a man phoned me and said, “Bert, this is Joe. I’m upstairs.” I was in my basement. Joe was upstairs in my house? Creepy. Turned out, Joe was upstairs at the other Bert Stratton’s house.

The other Bert Stratton knows me. A Cleveland acquaintance ran into him on the ship and asked if he knew me. He did. He knew of me.

Bert has all my fan mail.

There’s a klezmer concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Hts., this Sunday (7 p.m. June 26), featuring  Jack Stratton, drums; Michael Winograd, clarinet; and Josh “Socalled” Dolgin, keyboard and vocals. Free. No tix necessary. Just show up.

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June 22, 2022   2 Comments

HORA EXPERT

I’m an expert on the Jewish hora. How it goes down or doesn’t go down. I’ve analyzed horas at simchas where I’m playing, and simchas where I’m not playing — like at family functions, where I’m just another regular Joe Jew guest. Usually I get out on the dance floor at these family celebrations and roll with the lame DJ.

One time I banged up my knee the afternoon before the relative’s bat mitzvah party. I tripped on steps while fetching earplugs for the party. I asked the bartender at the party, “Unusual request here, but can you get me a bag of ice for my knee?” No problem. I sat out the hora. It went on about 10 minutes. It was the standard DJ crap: “Now circle right, now left. Everybody into the center.”

I would have danced; I’m not a hora snob, but I was freaking out about my knee. I thought my knee might go south for months. You never know, particularly when you reach my age.

Yiddishe Cup occasionally does some simchas where we play the hora and then are replaced by a DJ. One thing  the DJ does that Yiddishe Cup can’t compete with: the DJ gets his “dance facilitators” to carry the bat mitzvah girl in on their shoulders. (At Yidd Cup gigs, we have the kids carry us in.)

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April 20, 2022   1 Comment

A TOO-JEWISH POST

Yiddishe Cup’s most religiously scrupulous gig was for the get (divorce decree) rabbi. We played a Purim tish (gathering) at his house in Cleveland Heights. All black hats and beards. The rabbi’s drosh (speech on a liturgical text) was in Yiddish. I thought I was in a Chagall painting.

My Conservative rabbi, when he heard about the get gig, couldn’t believe I’d been in the get rabbi’s house. My rabbi had never been in there.

I knew all the rabbis in town. In Cleveland, Jewish denominations typically don’t party and pray together, so the rabbis don’t all know each other. If you want a mishmash of Jews all in the same room, go to a smaller town, like Akron, Ohio. In Akron, the Orthodox and non-Orthodox will mix it up. It’s a matter of survival. Small numbers.

Musicians, take note of this: Don’t play “Hava Nagila” for the Orthodox. They usually don’t want it. Too goyish. Nevertheless, at one Orthodox wedding, the bride’s aunt repeatedly requested the band play “Hava Nagila.” I said no. Then some New York yeshiva buchers asked me for the song. I said, “Are you trying to embarrass the band?”

“No, we heard you’re a klezmer band and we’d like to hear it.” Yeah, right.

Still, the mom didn’t want it. Again, the mom’s sister said play it. And again, the buchers said play it. The mom finally relented. We played it. The world ended.

Coda: The buchers danced with ruach to the tune. “Hava Nagila” is originally a Hasidic nign from Hungary. Look these Jewish words up. Don’t have time to translate. Gotta find my funny hat for Purim.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. “We Are All Ukrainians Now.”

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March 16, 2022   3 Comments

NUDE MUSIC

I used to sell klezmer. I traveled to arts booking conferences in Chicago, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. The conferences were trade shows. I hung up a Yiddishe Cup banner in a booth and smiled at people I didn’t want to smile at. The people I smiled at were bookers, also known as presenters. They represented Carnegie Hall, the Oshkosh (Wis.) Opera House and points in between. In show-biz lang, these places are called “soft-seat auditoriums.”

My booth was sandwiched between a puppeteer, a classical pianist, and a “mentalist” — a guy who bent spoons. I was with the self-represented artists. The booths that got the most traffic were manned by talent agencies. For instance, if  a presenter wanted to hire the Klezmatics or the Klezmer Conservatory Band, the presenter would find the talent-agency booth that repped, say, klez, Irish music, jazz and dance.

This, just in . . . there are too many artists. At one Midwest Arts Conference, a portion of the exhibit hall was devoted specifically to “New Music.” I saw bookers hanging out there. I was getting no action; nobody was hanging out at my booth. And I even gave out candy! I said to the convention administrator, “Yiddishe Cup does new music.”

She said, “Klezmer isn’t new music!”

“We do nude music,” I said. I was giddy, having done nothing for two days. Still, she wouldn’t let Yiddishe Cup in to the special section.

One time, in Pittsburgh, I got sick of the whole conference schtick and went home a day early. I left a bunch of flyers at my booth. A couple weeks later I got a call from the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. We played NYC. Note that. We got that gig without me being at the booth. Lesson?

Kansas City: a Beloit College student ran up to my booth and declared his love of klezmer — klezmer in general, not necessarily Yiddishe Cup. We got that gig. Our first airplane outing. We flew to Midway, rented a van, and drove up to Beloit to play for student bodies in the college chapel.

By the way, right after we landed at Midway, we  ate at Pepe’s, a Mexican restaurant on Cicero Avenue. I still pass that place somewhat regularly, because my daughter, Lucy, lives in Chicago. The restaurant isn’t Pepe’s anymore. But it’s still Mexican. I digress.

Yiddishe Cup plays nude music.
nude music

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March 9, 2022   2 Comments

NORTH CAROLINA

The Greensboro Furniture Mart
convention
is happening

There are no beds for Yidd Cup
except at a hotel across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint

Continental breakfast
Corn Flakes in a Styrofoam bowl
needs milk
for weight
fast
too late
Where’s the broom?

Two bands
are at the Delta Airlines counter
“Our gig was colder than a motherfucker,”
the drummer says.
”You played outside?” our guy says
“Damn, right,” their drummer says.

“Who you with?”
“The Neville Brothers.”
Our singer flips. He’s a big Neville Brothers fan

UNC-Greensboro
featuring
the one and only Yiddishe Cup.

(We’re home now. Been home for 16 years.)

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February 2, 2022   2 Comments