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 — Klezmer


I’ve had musicians quit Yiddishe Cup. I’ve fired guys from Yiddishe Cup. I’ve never had anybody retire from Yiddishe Cup — until now. Don Friedman, Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, hung it up after 17 years. Thanks for everything, Don!  You showed up on time, were easy to get along with, and played well. What more could a bandleader ask for?

Here’s Don turning in his bass drum heads. (Followed by a Don-is-god post from 2/27/13.)

DON FRIEdman turns in his gear 10_8_15  outside corky and lenny's

Don Friedman turns in his gear 10/8/15.


Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, Don Friedman, also goes by the name Donny Mann (as in “Shelly Manne” and “Herbie Mann” — fellow yids).

“Donny Mann,” the name, started back in pre-history — the 1970s.  “Jan Paderewski gave me the name when we were playing five nights a week at the Blue Fox Restaurant in 1974,” Don said. “Talk about wiseguys.  It was all Mafia guys at the bar.”

“Jan Paderewski?” I said.

“Yes. His parents were musicians. They played a lot in Little Italy.”

Jan Paderewski’s great, great uncle was the Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist and statesman.  Jan Paderewski of Cleveland was a stand-up comedian, restaurant owner and pianist. He played light classical and standards.

“Donny Mann” 2011

Donny Mann attended Berklee in 1961 — when Berklee was just one building with a couple hundred students. Donny dropped out. That was the idea: drop out and play gigs. (Still is.)

Donny Mann’s first pro gig was at age 16 in his hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania. Don played with the Stardusters  (piano, accordion, alto, and drums) every Saturday night at the American Legion Hall.  Tunes like “Poinciana” and “Moonlight in Vermont.”

“I heard ‘The House of Blue Lights’ in the late 1950s,” Don said. “That drove me nuts. I loved it.”

Don worked in a hat store in Erie — “My first encounter with retail,” he said.  Don eventually worked in a men’s clothing store in Cleveland.  And he listened to jazz — Gene Krupa through Tony Williams.  “I shied away from rock and roll.  It was primitive to me.”

“I wasn’t crazy about New York,” Don said.  “Cleveland was the big-time, being from Erie. In the 1950s and 1960s, Cleveland was the big-time — look out, Jimmy Brown!  In Erie, I rooted for the Browns, not the Steelers.”

Don worked at Rogers Drums in Cleveland, beginning in 1965.  He sold drums and musical-accessory chazerai to mom-and-pop music stores, and he gigged at night.  “Every other word I said was hip. ‘I’m hip, man.’  I used that too much.  I try not to say it nowadays, but it’s hard.”

Don hung out at the Theatrical Restaurant. “I was never in the section where you ordered the expensive steaks,” Don said.  “I sat at the bar.”  He sat behind the featured drummer, behind the bandstand — the best place to watch the drummers’ hands and feet. He saw Cozy Cole, Papa Jo Jones (“He wore white socks”) and Louie Bellson.

“Bob McKee, the house drummer, played a blue onyx Rogers. All the drummers loved that set. It had Swiv-O-Matic hardware. The Japanese copied it. Bobby still has the set in his basement. He’s in his eighties now.

“Philly Joe Jones was at the Theatrical, too.  He was more modern than Papa Jo. Buddy Rich was there. Gino was there too.  Gino was a bit past his prime —  past his fame.”

“Gino who?” I said.

“Gene Krupa. Everybody called him Gino.”

 . . .Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome the coolest guy in Yiddishe Cup, the one and only Donny Mann!

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October 21, 2015   9 Comments


In Dallas, at a gig, I stopped at a taco shop to check out Mexican drinks. The taco shop had orange, carrot, horchata, mango, guava and sidral (apple) drinks, as well as Mexican Coke, which is sweeter than American Coke. My Spanish was OK until the clerk asked para aqui o llevar? (“For here or to go?”)

In Cleveland, Yiddishe Cup played a wedding for an Ecuadorean family. I was supposed to say in Spanish: “You will probably see people seated in chairs in the wind.” That was for the chair lifting / “Hava Nagila.” We also played a mariachi song, “El Rey,” which had the lyrics “I always do what I want and my word is the law.” Like Dion’s “The Wanderer.” (The couple eventually got divorced.)

Yiddishe Cup’s most Hispanic moment was when we played “La Bamba” for about 2,000 Hispanics at an outdoor concert in a park on the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas. We put Hebrew lyrics in “La Bamba.”

I wish we played more Hispanic gigs. Last week at a Simchat Torah luncheon, I ran into a Cuban Jew who asked for “Guantanamera.” That’s as good as it gets here, Hispanically speaking. Not good enough! I’ll have to visit Latin America again.

Some breros

Some breros


Read the rave review of Vulfpeck’s new record, Thrill of the Arts, in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Years ago Barry Cik, a local bandleader, talked a lot about his son Yehuda’s music career. I thought, “Barry has a music career of his own, doesn’t he? Why is he talking so much about his son.” My apologies, Barry!

Check out Jim Fusilli, the renowned Wall Street Journal reviewer . . .

liner notes

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October 14, 2015   1 Comment


I’ve seen deluxe port-a-potties. One was at a wedding on Fairmount Boulevard, Hunting Valley, and the second was at a wedding on South Park Boulevard, Shaker Heights. At the Fairmount Boulevard wedding, the hired help outnumbered the guests 3-to-1. There were only 30 guests. The port-a-potty had a flush toilet, vanity sink, flowers in a bowl, a roll of paper towels, and extra toilet paper. And this was just for the help. The guests used the bathrooms in the house.

port a pottiesAt the South Park Boulevard wedding, the band shared the port-a-potties with the guests. We played the ceremony, cocktail hour, and a hora. Then a second band took over. We frequently get kicked out for another band, which is usually from New York, Nashville, New Orleans or Detroit. The further away the better, prestige-wise.

Dual flush: 1) Yiddishe Cup. 2) Yiddishe Cup + solid waste (of money) for second band.

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September 16, 2015   4 Comments


Bob Berkman lectured on the roll of the player piano roll in Jewish music. Berkman used to work at a player piano company in Buffalo, New York. The company made piano rolls until 2009. The last Jewish piano roll rolled out in 1980. It was “The Theme from Exodus” by Ferrante and Teicher. Berkman said there are about 800 Jewish piano-roll titles out there. He has 256.

Berkman’s mother was at the lecture, in Cleveland at a temple sisterhood. His mother lives in Cleveland. Bob had a power point and had rented a grand piano. He hooked up his Pianola player piano to the grand piano. I bet Bob took a financial bath on that presentation. (I know about sisterhood budgets.) I think he did the presentation just for his mom. Bob played everything from “The Shtiler Bulgar” to “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn.” He asked me where might he perform next. I wasn’t sure.

Niche of niches.

piano roll  muffins


Bob Berkman

(Bob’s website is here. Book him!)

Yiddishe Cup plays the Medina (Ohio) International Fest 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 22). Free.

best band yiddishe cup

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August 19, 2015   6 Comments


I got a certified letter saying Yiddishe Cup’s checking account was terminated.

Shutting me down after 19 years? For what?

“Due to continuing regulatory requirements associated with the corresponding bank account, Huntington Bank is closing all checking and saving accounts in the name of YIDDISHE CUP KLEZMER BANK.”

How would my bandmates get paid? Should I move my checking account to PNC? I can’t go to a place that is initials. CVS is bad enough (for aspirin).

I went to the Huntington branch and talked to a senior banker, Dave. I thought he was the head cheese. Dave read my certified letter and sent me over to Sam, the real senior banker, who had a secluded office in the rear of the bank.

Sam was black. I said to him, “I got to tell you, I remember it like yesterday, I started this account and the banker was Ervin Mason, a black guy in his twenties, and he knew what klezmer was. He had heard of Don Byron. Do you know what klezmer is?”

“No,” Sam said.

“Erv knew! Let’s call him right now and see if he remembers me. Is he still at Huntington?” (Sam checked. Erv was gone.) “Back then,” I said, “Huntington misprinted my checks as Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Bank. I kept the Bank as a joke. So maybe that has something to do with this mix up. ”

check BEST2

Sam then called Jared, a commercial portfolio manager in Columbus. Jared said Yiddishe Cup was listed as a “financial institution.”  “That’s the problem,” Sam said. “We thought you were a bank. You’d have more money in your account if you were a real bank!”


“We got that squared,” Sam said.

I hope so.

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July 29, 2015   4 Comments


I knew a Cleveland comedian who moved to Florida and did impressions of Joan Rivers and Carol Channing, and even affected a New York accent.  She did OK on the condo circuit.  She and Yiddishe Cup shared the same booker, Suntan Stu, in Florida. The first time Stu phoned me, he said, “Vos machst du, man?” (How’s it going, man?)

“Remind me, Stu, how did you hear about my band?”

“When a band is as good as Yiddishe Cup, the word gets around!”

I lost $900 because of Stu.  He “booked” us at a Florida showcase (a talent show for bands) that never happened. I paid airplane cancellation fees. Stu’s website said he had worked with America’s biggest stars: Dolly Parton, Johnny Mathis and the Bee Gees.

Why did I fall for Stu’s line?  (Probably because I thought Stu would get Yiddishe Cup a lot of gigs.) We got gornisht. “Vos machst du, man?”  Next time somebody says that to you, run.

suntan stu

Check out the Schmotown Revue tonight  (7-9 p.m Wed., June 3) at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. Outdoors if the weather is good; indoors if raining. Soul music and klezmer.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

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June 3, 2015   5 Comments


The book Dave Tarras: The King of Klezmer is 37 pages. Big pages: 8 ½” X 14″. Tarras played clarinet in the Catskills and brought his wife to the “mountains.” He owned a house in Brooklyn. He wore a suit a lot. He was very talented. Here are two representative sentences from the book: 1) “’I admired my grandfather and loved to spend some time in the mountains [with him],’ said Marc Tarras, grandson and doctor.”  2) “Dave was a very funny guy and had a great sense of humor.”

tarras bio book

Naftule Brandwein — another great klezmer clarinetist — drank heavily, hung around mobsters, and supposedly almost electrocuted himself with a lightbulb-festooned suit. I think a bio of Brandwein would be longer than 37 pages.

Check out the Schmotown Revue next Wednesday (7-9 p.m, June 3) at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. Outdoors if the weather is good; indoors if raining. Soul music and klezmer.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

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May 27, 2015   6 Comments


1. Theory has nothing to do with Yiddishe Cup.

2.  Yiddishe Cup does not play it safe. We take chances and, yes, we occasionally screw up. Do you know how hard it is to make semi-decent music?

3. Musicians need encouragement, not criticism.

4. We don’t use fake books.

5. We listen, then lock in.

6. Pyrotechnics are OK with us.

8. Feelings are always appropriate. The down side is we often feel hurt and abused.

9. We are chatty.

10. Our X-axis is comedy; our Y, tragedy. Plot it.

yidd cup formula

Yiddishe Cup plays the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration 5:30-7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. April 23) at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts.

yiddishe cup photo by shane wynn BEST

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April 22, 2015   3 Comments


I met
Yury, a Russian, only four days after he landed in Cleveland.  I met him at a park bench, 1990.  I sold him my 1978 Buick Regal for $500, and I suggested he change his name from Yury to Yuri.  Yury would be a hindrance to his assimilation, I said.  Yuri — as in “Yuri Gagarin” — worked better, at least for me.

Yury is now an engineer and lives in Beachwood.  Still with the y, 25 years later.

Yury lived in a subsidized apartment two blocks from my house. I helped him light the burners on his stove and lent him an old TV.  When he got the Buick Regal, I told him to check it out with the Russian mechanic down on Mayfield Road.  Yury said, “I do not trust Russians.”

Yiddishe Cup had a Russian drummer, Misha from Tashkent.  He was “the stinger man” because he put a stinger (a klezmer ending) on every tune. Which was annoying.  I went to Misha’s mother’s funeral — the smallest funeral of all time. There were maybe 10 people at the funeral home.  I can’t imagine what that woman lived through, what with the Nazis and Communists.  Misha was a pro drummer. That’s all he did in the Soviet Union.  Shelly Manne came through Tashkent in the 1950s and left a lot of drumsticks behind, which everybody prized.  (Might have been Buddy Rich.  I’m not sure now.)

Misha used to hit his wife and daughter, and admit it.  Misha would say, “Here the police listen to the children. In Russian, the parents.”

Misha moved to Boston to drive a cab.

Moishe, the owner of Davis Caterers, said food at Russian gigs is “out of control.”  He said, “The Russians eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once. Fish and cold cuts. Then soup. Then blintzes. Then prime and salmon and desserts. Plus vodka.”

Yiddishe Cup played a few Russian weddings, but not lately.  I miss the food.  Russian immigrant musicians cornered the Russian wedding market.  Immigrant musicians know what the crowd wants and it’s not us.  Yiddishe Cup’s Russian skill-set is  “7-40,” “Hava Nagila,” and some waltzes like “Ershter Waltz” and “Tumbalalaika.”   Also, anything from Fiddler on the Roof  is a winner.

What if my grandparents hadn’t left Russia?

Yiddishe Cup had a second Russian drummer, Vladimir, who forgot his sticks and used dowel rods fashioned from a windowshade. That was his only gig with us.


Irwin Weinberger and I occasionally play gigs at a Russian senior drop-in center.  The Russians seem to like us.   We’ve learned “Kalinka” and “Katyusha.”

Russians, they remind me of what I could have been: dead (via Nazis, etc.) or a bigger partier.

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March 11, 2015   6 Comments


KlezKamp shuts down this month after 30 annual get-togethers. This post looks at KlezKamp 1990.  KlezKamp was a huge positive influence on many musicians.

Sid Beckerman was a living legend of klez clarinet. I followed him around KlezKamp — the  annual music conference in the Catskills.

Sid talked to me!  Big deal?  Yes, it was.  Sid was paid staff, and I was a payer, as in student/customer/fawner, and paid staff was on a higher plane, hard to corner.  They had a lot of demands on their time.

Sid Beckerman, 1998 photo.

Sid Beckerman, 1998

Sid had no ego, according to Washington clarinetist Rodney Brooks, another student.  “Sid was never a star,” Rodney explained.  Sid was “discovered” by klez revivalists, and made his first record at 70.  (He died at 88 in 2007.)

Sid had a handwritten tune-book called “the sheets,” as in “sheet music.”  Sid’s guardian of “the sheets” was pianist Pete Sokolow (b. 1940), who had transcribed the tunes for Sid.

The most popular tune in the collection was “SB7,” which meant “Sid Beckerman tune #7.”  Dave Tarras had originally recorded it as “Di Zilberne Chasene” (The Silver Wedding).  Yiddishe Cup recorded it as “40A.”

Pete Sokolow, 2007

Pete Sokolow, 2007

At KlezKamp I developed a strategy for getting the sheets from Pete Sokolow.  First, I gave Pete a xerox of an obscure 1938 magazine article about “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn,” hoping to get in Pete’s good graces. Sokolow, stuffing the magazine article in his pocket, said, “The sheets?  What sheets?  I’m so busy now.  I’m working up an arrangement for fifteen people.  What did Sid say?”

I hadn’t asked Sid.  So I went to Sid and offered him $20 for the sheets.  Sid said, “For what?  What transcriptions?”

Funny, all the clarinetists from D.C. knew the SB tunes. So I badgered Rodney, the dean of D.C. clarinetists, some more.  I hocked him.  He finally admitted he had the sheets.  “You can xerox them,” he said.  “But don’t say you got them from me.  Somebody might take umbrage.”

A year later, 1991, the sheets came out as the Klezmer Plus! Folio by Tara Publications.  Everybody could buy them.  Sokolow and Sid were just protecting their investments.

The above post is a rerun.  A version ran as “The Sheets,” 10/7/09.   Also, please check out the first comment (recycled from ’09) by Steven Greenman, about Sid Beckerman.


OK, you want to read something new . . .


I yelled at my wife today. Nothing new there. She forgot to buy milk.

I need a Bud. My neighbor — a guy from Germany — says Bud is the best beer in America.

I drink too much, I know that. Anymore, I’m surprised my wife puts up with me. My kids left. They won’t even talk to me.

I know I should cut back. I’d like to get down to a case a week. I had a friend who drank himself to death at 42. He put away a case a day — 24 brewskis. That’s ridiculous even by my standards. Four beers a day is what I’m shooting for.

I need a beer!

This is a fake profile.

Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio) New Year’s Eve, 9:30 p.m. John S. Knight Convention Center. Booze-free event.

Did somebody say free booze?

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December 24, 2014   3 Comments


Eric Krasner came to Cleveland to make a movie about Mickey Katz, the Cleveland-born klezmer clarinetist and comedian.

Eric wanted to see where Mickey was born, and where Mickey’s wife grew up, and maybe where Mickey’s father’s tailor shop had been.  I said to Eric, “I’m not a filmmaker — and I don’t want to tell you what to do — but if you want another opinion, I don’t think you should show every place Mickey took a shit.”

We went to the old Euclid Avenue Temple (now Liberty Hill Baptist Church), where Mickey was married in 1930.  Eric — teasing me — filmed the men’s room and said, “This is where Mickey urinated after his wedding.”

mickey katz 1959Eric asked why Katz (1909-1985) isn’t more acclaimed in his hometown.

For one thing, nobody has ever heard of Mickey Katz!  Mickey is not LeBron, or Superman, or Pekar, or Bob Hope. (All local boys.)  Katz was Joel Grey’s father and Jennifer Grey’s grandfather.

Eric and I went to Glenville, an inner-city neighborhood where Mickey spent his teenage years. We found the Glenville Hall of Fame. Mickey didn’t have a plaque.

One aspect of Eric’s movie — my guess here — is, why doesn’t Mickey have a plaque of some sort — a street, a “Mickey Katz Way” — in his hometown?

mickey katzEric found Mickey’s birthplace near E. 51 and Woodland by the Ohio Food terminal.  Sawtell Court — the actual street where Mickey was born — doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a grassy field. Eric drew a sign, “Birthplace of Mickey Katz 1909,” and put it on a fence.

Eric drove all the way from Maryland to film that sign.  I hope the movie, minus the urinal, happens.

Yiddishe Cup plays New Year’s Eve at Akron (Ohio) First Night.  9:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center.

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December 17, 2014   6 Comments


I was at a brunch where all the men wore Ohio State apparel.  That in itself was not unusual; I know a lot of Ohio State fans who do brunch, but the host at this brunch was particularly Bucks-nuts; he would not let anybody into his house with Michigan gear on.

ohio state v michiganI didn’t have any on.

I’m not that big a football fan. I’m a Michigan graduate but I wish Ohio State all the best — most of the time. I like it when Michigan is winning, but this year the team is horrible, so let Ohio State go all the way.

Yiddishe Cup had a trumpet player — a sub — who played in the Ohio State marching band. He played a luncheon with Yiddishe Cup, and the OSU-Michigan game (originally scheduled for 3 pm) went on at noon, so I gave the musician leeway on the bandstand; I let him periodically watch the Bucks on a TV in a corner. The other guys in the band thought I was too accommodating. They didn’t
understand . . .

Take 1962: OSU versus Northwestern, homecoming.  Before the game, my dad and I went to a reunion luncheon.  My dad had on a Class of ’38 name tag. I don’t know what the name tag read; my father changed his name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941. The theme for the fraternity floats in 1962 may have been “Peanuts.”  My dad knew the words to “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater.  My dad never knew the words to any song!

My dad and I went to about a half dozen Ohio State homecomings. I liked Long’s Bookstore for sweatshirts.  Charbert’s for hamburgers.  We checked out the floats on fraternity row.  My dad wanted to show me the medical school.

The Bucks: Tom Matte, Warfield, Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson.

If Michigan doesn’t win it all (and it ain’t going to this year), let Ohio State.

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium.  (Julia came on our first homecoming outing -- 1959,)

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium. (My mother went on our first homecoming outing, 1959.)

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November 26, 2014   2 Comments


Yiddishe Cup played four Century Village retirement communities in Florida.  Each Century Village had a theater the size of a basketball arena. Other acts on the boards were Debby Boone, Dr. Ruth, Jack Jones, “Jim Bailey as Judy Garland,” Joel Grey, and Larry Storch, “the lovable Corporal Agarn from F-Troop.”  (This was in 2002.)

One cummerbund-popping emcee told us he had opened for the Righteous Brothers, and had done Las Vegas, the cruise ships, and been married nine times. He said, “Only Mickey Rooney has me beat.” His latest wife wouldn’t let him travel, so he sold Cadillacs during the day and emceed Century Village shows at night.  He told us two “inside” Century Village jokes:

What’s 25-feet long and smells like urine?

The conga line at Century Village.

century village conga line

What’s an 80-year-old man smell like?


The band wasn’t allowed to mingle with the audience after performances. That was a rule.  Another Century Village rule was do not walk off stage for an encore because the audience will leave and you won’t get an encore. Also, don’t take an intermission because the lines at the restroom will be so long the intermission will never end. Also, do not sell CDs.  Why not?

We broke some rules.

We never got asked back — and the crowd liked our comedy stuff!  I think they did.  I remember talking to a New York couple after the gig (violation of rule #1).  They liked us.

I would like to return to Florida, but it won’t happen unless I buy a condo at Century Village.

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October 22, 2014   8 Comments


I like to proclaim “golden ages” as they happen. My record is 2-1.

Win: The klez revival. In 1998 I told my band: “This is the golden age of Yiddishe Cup. We’re getting gigs in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” We flew to the U.P. via Minneapolis, then on to Calumet, Michigan, a mining town with an opera house.  Every town in America hired a klezmer band in the 1990s for its multicultural performing arts series.

Lose: I didn’t see the real estate crash of 2008-09.  A couple young guys wanted to buy my Riverview building in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2004, and I asked too much.  I wish they had bought it. I should have come down in price.

golden age  julia at fed eventWin The peak of Cleveland Jewry was 2000. The Jewish Federation would bring in entertainers like David “Dudu” Fisher and Mike Burstyn for galas. Burstyn and Fisher both charged at least $15,000.  I took my mother to see Burstyn.  She was in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.  I wheeled her to the front of the room, where the machers were. Some of the “healthy old” looked kind of scared of my mom.  The Jewish Federation employees wore earpieces like FBI agents and worked crowd control; others Federation workers ran the wide-screen video and cued up speeches; and other workers told guests where to line up for dessert — the most important event. Fisher and Burstyn haven’t been back since.

We’re in the golden age of the Klezmer Guy blog now.  What other golden ages?  I don’t know.  You tell me. The golden age of golden-agers?  I’m playing a lot of nursing homes lately, specializing in 80th, 90th and 100th birthday parties, and the residents and nursing homes are looking very spiffy.  I hope those facilities — and the residents — look that good when I’m there.

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October 1, 2014   8 Comments


You’re interested in klezmer music, but tell me honestly, do I exhaust you with too much klezmer reporting?

I’m the only klezmer journalist in the world, so yes I’m prolific. No wait, there are a couple more writers . . . Rogovoy in Massachusetts, Kun of California, Robinson in New York, Davidow in Boston.  And some academics too.

We meet up virtually, and collaboratively, right here. At least I think we do.

My life is filled with klezmer.  Do other people have klezmer dreams? Do people have bluegrass dreams? Why would they?  What about Chagall — didn’t he have klezmer dreams?

Existence is a wall to climb over.

I’m over it.

klez wall klezmer writer

I have no big statement on klezmer. I started playing it because I didn’t know what else to do.  Buddy Holly, I like him; B.B. King, excellent. I couldn’t be those guys. I tried.

In college I wrote about jazz.  There is jazz writing. There are jazz journals. What about klezmer journals?  I started one: Klezmer Guy. It’s online. Check it out.

I like quirky music with glitches — in short the wrong note in the right place.  I like the staccato of Yiddish and the clarinet.  My speech is a cluster of blobs and blurts. Some of it makes sense.

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August 20, 2014   4 Comments


The mayor’s assistant told us not to play any klezmer music — “nothing ethnic,” she said.  Just American.

No klezmer?  Why did the mayor hire Yiddishe Cup for the city’s summer concert series?

Our contract rider stipulated a fruit platter, bottled water and diet colas. A good gig, food-wise. But what were we going to play?

I said, “You don’t want to alienate anybody with ethnic music?”

“Exactly,” she said. “That’s the mayor’s thought.”

“How much non-ethnic music do you want?”

“All or mostly.”

“Can you give me a percentage?”

“Ninety percent American music,” she said.

Yiddishe Cup played “Dock of the Bay,” some Motown, Beatles, “Hang on Sloopy” and “Old Time Rock And Roll.” A Chinese woman liked “My Girl” so much we played it twice.

no yid stuff

I told the crowd Yiddishe Cup started out as a deli on Kinsman Road, then moved to Cedar Center, and ultimately wound up on the far East Side. I  kept up that quirky patter throughout because “My Girl,” the second time through, wasn’t doing it for me.  A city councilman asked where Yiddishe Cup had been at Cedar Center. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know. I should have said, “Between Abbey’s and Solomon’s.”  Or maybe “We were in back of Harvey’s Backroom.”

We snuck in “Miserlou” — a Greek tune.  We did a Macedonian tune.  We did an Israeli tune (!)  And for some reason, “Hawaii Five-0.”


1 IN 25

When I went to the solidarity-with-Israel rally in Cleveland last week, I figured I would know 1-in-10 people. I knew 1-in-30, at most.

There were 2,800 people. That was a letdown — not the 2,800, but I didn’t know more of them. I knew many of the cantors, rabbis and Federation speakers but I didn’t know many of the rank-and-file yehudim.

I know one person in this photo and recoognize a couple faces. Israel rally, Cleveland, 7/22/14

I knew one person in this photo.
  (Cleveland, 7/22/14)

Shouldn’t I — after 25 years with Yiddishe Cup — be more plugged in than 1-in-30?

There were Christian groups from far off places (Aurora, Westlake), so maybe I’m more like 1-in-25 (with lantsmen).

Give me 1-in-25.

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 7, at John Carroll University as part of the City of University Heights (Ohio) Summer Concert Series.

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert.  (Photo by Jim Olexa).

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at the 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert. (Photo by Jim Olexa)

The concert is on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library on the quad. Park in the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and bring a blanket or chair. If raining, the concert is in the Dolan Science Center. Free. (We always deliver a top-notch kosher-for-Pesach klezmer  show for University Heights.)

Guest vocalist Shawn Fink will sing “Joe and Paul’s,” a 1940s comedy classic, and the band will do its original “Warrensville and Cedar Road,” about TJ Maxx, Bob Evans and Target.

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July 30, 2014   8 Comments


My son Teddy had a birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road. This was in 1990.  I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 49 Putt-Putt courses left in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue in Cleveland. (I think that’s where it was.)  It had a Buddha that went up and down.   My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.

Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf  . . .  Just had to say that.

I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren.  (First, I need the grandchildren.)  I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball.  That’s the hardest part of mini golf.

Adventure golf, such as Pirate’s Cove, sounds good.

Putt Putz

Putt Putz

There’s a  vid version of this post — slightly more in-depth.  (Originally posted in 2011).

Come to Cain Park, Cleveland Heights, 7 p.m. Sun. (June 29) for a free klezmer concert by the Josh “Socalled” Dolgin Sextet, featuring super clarinetist Michael Winograd.  (Jack Stratton on drums.)

Josh Dolgin

Josh Dolgin

Here’s a new vid, Don Bryon Salutes Mickey Katz.

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June 25, 2014   8 Comments


The father of the bride wanted to meet me a week before the wedding, at the country club, to go over the plans.  I wasn’t driving 35 minutes one way to a country club I’d been to a million times! I said, “Come over to my house.”  My usual M.O.

I prevailed. The dad came over with his daughter and wife. The daughter asked if  Yiddishe Cup could play “B’shem Hashem” for the processional.

We didn’t know it.

The mom said, “You don’t know it?  Everybody knows it.”

Never heard of it!  [Neshoma Carlebach recorded the tune.]

At the wedding, the dad yelled at the event planner because the cocktail bar opened late, supposedly.  The wife came up to me five minutes before the band’s starting time and said play.  “Start the music!” as if we were late.

During the cocktail hour, the band took a short break.  The dad said, “Why aren’t you playing?”   Yes, sir, right away, sir!

The dad said nobody could hear us.   Maybe we should have been louder.  I like quiet music but most people don’t.  He said,  “It’s like you’re not even here.”  Our keyboard player fetched another speaker.

Gig over, at last. The dad said he’d mail the check.  This happens.

But I didn’t get the check; I got an email.  “I want to express my . . .”  joy?  No.  “Disappointment” about your break, your starting time, etc.

I called the dad for the money.

He said, “In my business I like to know when my customers are unhappy.  If they’re unhappy I give them a discount.  I want you to know I’m unhappy.  I’ll mail you the check.  It’s not about the money.”

It’s always about the money.

Mazel tov on the wedding,” I said.

No check.

I sent a statement a month later.

No check.

I called his business.  His secretary paused about five seconds before she said, “He’s not in.”

I asked my son the lawyer to draft a document.  My son said it wasn’t worth suing the dad.  “OK, I’ll go small claims,” I said.  “I have his bank account number.  I’m ready.”

About a month later I got a check in the mail with a Post-it note: “Sorry this was so late.”

What?  I’m still wondering. If the dad wanted me to squirm for a couple months, he succeeded.

I had an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, 4/13/14.  “Jazz and Real Estate.”  

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April 16, 2014   5 Comments


Save the date: August 31, Cleveland.

We’re having a costume ball at The Challah Fame fundraiser.  We’ll have styling stations with plenty of gear in case you forget to dress right; we’ll have Greek fishermen’s caps, Tevye vests, Russian cavalry boots and wash-off Yiddish tattoos.

We’re blocking off three blocks on Euclid Avenue for bowling, pierogis, borscht, schnitzel, herring, slivovits and brewskis.  The theme is The Other, as in Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and Martians.  IDs not necessary.

Live music,  of course.  We’ve already booked Beyond the Pale and Sharon, Lois, and Bram.

We’ll march up Euclid Avenue to East 17th Street, where the Alpine Village used to be, and play Austrian oom-pah music. [Mickey Katz played at the Alpine during the war.  The club’s owner, Herman Pirchner (an Austrian), wanted to show he wasn’t pro-Nazi.]

Robert Gates, former secretary of defense, will lecture on “The Klezmer CDs We Found at Bin Laden’s Lair and What That Meant.”  Other lecturers are the usual suspects: Wex, Sokolow, Horowitz, Netsky.  Also, a Ladino lecture by Septimo Rodriguez:  “Soluciones para pequena empresas Ladinas.”

Finally, a motorcycle ride out to the Popcorn Shop in Chagrin Falls, led by Mayor Merle Gorden of Beachwood.  (We’ll have three-wheel motorcycles for rent.)

Save the date: August 31.


The post above is so stupid it deserves another . . .


I sometimes get a spiritual lift from playing clarinet. This might happen during a pop tune like “Hallelujah,” or an old Naftule Brandwein klez number, or even a scale. I never know.

Young musicians ask me, “I see you put a lot of heart into your music. Where’s that coming from? How do you do that?”

I have no answer. I say, “Blow hard. Don’t worry about it. Blow hard.”


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March 19, 2014   1 Comment


 This appeared on the Ann Arbor Observer blog last week.  If you’ve already read it, please skip down to Side B.

Last year at The Ark, my klezmer show got bumped for Judy Collins.  She took my slot.

Ann Arbor ukulele-master Gerald Ross, who was a sideman, emailed me then: “I saw The Ark schedule. I don’t think we’re playing Feb. 9 [2013], because you’re not Judy Collins.”

I had a lock on that date!  I emailed The Ark.  The Ark said how about another date?  I suggested a couple more Saturday nights.  The Ark said how about a Friday night.

I don’t play Friday nights if I can help it.  I like to stay home for Friday nights — shabbat.  Sometimes my shabbats are just a couple hours, but they’re always on Friday night!  I once heard a Reform rabbi say, “Say a prayer over your pizza if you’re out with your kids on Friday night.”  I’m all for that.  I “hold” by that.  (“Hold” means  “I follow that custom.”)

I reluctantly took the Friday night slot last year, but didn’t put Friday in my publicity.

I got up to Ann Arbor on Friday afternoon and met up with an old college friend, Charlie Burch.   He had just donated his 1960-70s political buttons to an archive in the Graduate Library.  I wondered who still used the library. The answer: Charlie.  (His buttons were No Nein Nyet Non Lo; March on Washington; Go Michigan Beat Thailand.)

Charlie pointed out where various stores don’t exist anymore.  Like Centicore Books, Borders Books, Orange Julius and Miller’s Ice Cream.

I like touring Ann Arbor.  It’s the only place I’ve lived other than Cleveland.  I graduated U-M in 1973.

I said a private shabbat prayer in a Mexican restaurant, Sabor Latino, before my gig.  I opened the gig with “Shalom Aleykhem” (a well-known Friday night song) and wished the Jews at The Ark “shabbat shalom.”

I had a good one — a good shabbat.  But playing publicly on Friday night is not optimal for me.

Yiddishe Cup plays  Saturday night this year –- this Saturday, Feb. 8 [2014].  Praise the Lord!


180-degree turn . . .


I shot a cow once. It was crippled and couldn’t walk. My dad sold the dead cow to the Amish for meat. We couldn’t sell it to anybody else because it wasn’t “choice” grade.

My dad loved everything having to do with cows: barns, ice cream, blintzes. He had me pitching balls against the side of our barn, like Bob Feller. My dad thought I could be the next Rapid Robert even though I was a near-midget.

I planned to go to Ohio State to major in dairy science after high school. But my high school friends — all non-dairy guys — talked me into Michigan, where I majored in diary science (creative writing). A big mistake.

I spent a year in Israel after college, at a kibbutz, milking cows in the refet (dairy barn). The kibbutzniks  were impressed.

I still like unpasteurized milk, but it’s hard to find these days.

I order milk at bars. Women overhear me and say, “You’re like James Cagney!”

Got milk?

I hope so. I have zero tolerance for the lactose intolerant.

File under Fake Profiles.

Yiddishe Cup is at The Ark  this Sat., 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Here’s a vid from our show at The Ark, 2009:

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February 5, 2014   9 Comments