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


 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


A bride asked Yiddishe Cup to play quietly at her wedding. I said, “Great! I’m in two Facebook groups: ‘I Hate Cilantro’ and ‘I Hate Loud Music.’”

I attended a wedding — as a guest — where the band blasted like they were at Noriega’s palace.  Then a DJ — at an adjoining party, behind a folding wall  — blasted like he was landing cargo planes.

There were about 225 guests at the wedding I was at, and I was the only one bugged?


My wife thought the band was terrific.  She said,  “They are like a magnet, pulling me to the dance floor.”  (My wife, in turn, pulled 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 it.  And they were very loud!

I  should have texted the president of the “I Hate Loud Music” Facebook group to report the band.  (I think my former rabbi, Michael Hecht, is the honorary president of the group.)

Every time Yiddishe Cup played at Congregation Beth Am, Rabbi Hecht would ask us to turn it down. Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player –- who was also our sound guy — would shake his head and mutter under his breath, “I can’t turn it down any more.  The sound system is completely off!”

Somewhat scary old guy: Rabbi Hecht. Rabbi Hecht’s understudy: me.


Get outside!


In the 1970s, Newman-Adler Sporting Goods rented out cross-country skis from a shack in Forest Hill Park, Cleveland Heights.

It snowed like crazy in the 1970s.

Then it didn’t snow much in the 1980s. Everybody owned X-C skis by then — with several kinds of wax — but no snow. Newman-Adler stopped renting skis at Forest Hill. In fact the store went out of business.

With X-C, the snow has to be just right — not too slushy. If the snow isn’t perfect, you don’t glide right. If there is a dog or human footprint in the track, that messes things up too. Then there are ice patches.

That said, X-C skiing is a must-do at least once a winter.

Is it time?

Uh . . .

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January 29, 2014   2 Comments


At a nursing home gig, a resident told me she knew my late Aunt Bernice.

Another resident remembered me from my junior high days. Her daughter had played first-chair clarinet, to my second chair, in junior high band.

A third resident said he was the former dentist of Yiddishe Cup’s drummer.  “What’s your drummer’s name again?” the dentist asked. [Don Friedman! The great Donny Friedman!]

I said, “I’ll give you the drummer’s name, but first I’m going to be clairvoyant!” I guessed the dentist’s name, his approximate age (90), and what he had done that morning — three hours prior to the gig.

I got everything right, but the dentist wasn’t impressed. He wanted the drummer’s name.

Yid Yak

I guessed everything right about the dentist because 1. I had seen the dentist playing tennis at a nearby racquet club that morning.  A 90-year-old guy playing tennis is hard to forget.  2. I knew his approximate age because he used to play tennis with my dad.  3.  I knew his name because I had dated his daughter in high school.

The daughter and I had gone to see Cool Hand Luke at the Vogue,  then out for shakes at Manner’s Big Boy, Van Aken.  It was a fix-up by our parents.  It was my one-and- only date in high school.

I asked the dentist, “What’s Barbara doing?”  The daughter.

“She’s a piano teacher in Boston,” he said.

I just Googled her.  She teaches classical and jazz.   She used to be a radio DJ.

Did I make a major mistake not asking her out for a second date?

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January 22, 2014   4 Comments


A college kid told my band’s guitarist he went to Columbia University, and my guy said, “Where’s that?”

That knocked the college boy back a few SAT points.

College quiz question: What college narrowly missed being in the original Ivy League football conference?

Answer: Colgate University.*

Another fact: Yiddishe Cup once shared the bill with the Colgate glee club at a Cleveland wedding.

More: Former MIT folk dancers are a solid market for Yiddishe Cup.  Yiddishe Cup has played several simchas for MIT folk dancers.

Regionally speaking, I was loyal to Ohio State for many years.  My dad took me to Ohio State homecoming games every year.  My father lived in a corner of Ohio Stadium, in the scholarship dorm, the Tower Club, which was actually a barracks with cots. My dad often said some of the gentiles at Ohio State, back in the 1930s, thought Jews had horns.

A New Jersey woman — a potential bar mitzvah customer — called me and said, “I went to Ohio U. in the 1980s.  All the kids from Mentor and Madison [Ohio] thought I had horns.”

The Buckeye marching band had horns.  (Horns and percussion. No clarinets.)

The only time my father yelled at a TV was when Ohio State played Cincinnati for the 1961 basketball championship.  Who won?  [Cincinnati, 70-65.]

I attended a college-rejection shiva. The shiva — at Corky & Lenny’s restaurant in April 1968 — was for a friend who was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere!  He was ranked fifth, or so, in our high school class, but every college turned him down because the high school guidance counselor didn’t like him and wrote a negative recommendation.  (He was way too political for my school.)

We sat in the corner booth at C&Ls and drank chocolate phosphates, commiserating with our friend.  We were all in somewhere, and he wasn’t.

He eventually got accepted to Ohio State on a late application. Back then, if you had a heartbeat you could get into OSU.  He wound up in an OSU high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite.  It wasn’t anything like the house system at Harvard.


I knew a college counselor at University School, a private boys’ school in Cleveland.  If the counselor put in a good word for you, you were in.  Harvard, Yale, you name it.  Harvey Mudd. Deep Springs.

The counselor didn’t believe his own myth.  Go to a school that was a “good fit,” he  said.  (“Good fit” was the watchword of  college counselors.)  This counselor went to Harvard, a “good fit” for a college counselor.

Here’s a tip for high school kids: on your application, focus on something esoteric.  Write:  “I want to be a klezmer musician because it is the cornerstone of my existence.”  Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong.  I’ve been thinking about klezmer my whole life.”

No guarantees, but give it a try.

*The statement about Colgate narrowly missing out on the Ivy League football conference may be apocryphal.

OSU Tower Club residents, 1937.  Click on the photo to make it bigger.  “Tower  Club,” a sign,  is on the stadium entrance to the left of “Toby.”)

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November 20, 2013   4 Comments


My son Jack played his first professional gig with Yiddishe Cup at age 8, when I gave him five dollars to play “Wipe Out.” We were at a temple Chanukah party.  Before that gig, he had done pro bono work, sitting in frequently with the band and stealing the show. The senior citizens loved him.

Jack, age 4, 1992, Beachwood library, tambourines and drumsticks.

Years later, Shirley Guralnik, a fan of the band, would ask me, “How’s the little one?” And I would answer, “The little one is in college now and bigger than me.” Shirley died in 2011. She had followed  Jack’s career from the beginning.

Jack never got nervous.  A case of nerves was hard to develop if, like Groucho Marx, your stage-mom (or dad, in this case) put you on stage practically in diapers.

I told Jack I would pay him $75 — real money — for a real gig after his bar mitzvah.  He would be Yiddishe Cup’s drummer for some gigs. He wouldn’t just sit in.

He did great.

Jack got uptight only once.  It was at his own bar mitzvah — not the music, reading Torah.  The rabbi asked him, “How nervous are you on a scale of 1 to 10.”


“That’s not bad,” the rabbi said.

Jack said, “I’ve never been an 8 before!”


Jack, 13, 2000, at his first "real money" gig

Jack’s $75 gig was at the Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Ohio.  A country club staffer asked if she should light the Christmas tree for the bar mitzvah luncheon.  I said,  “Not a good idea.”

On the way home, we stopped by my dad’s grave on Aurora Road.   I told Jack to place an old clarinet reed on the grave marker.

My point? 1) I didn’t have any old drumsticks. 2) I was at my father’s grave with my youngest kid, who I had just paid to work, just like my father had paid me (to paint walls, argh). The cracked reed fit into the Jewish star on the grave marker.

My son got the $75.

Jack’s band, Vulfpeck, 2013. Jack on keys.

(Today I am a man)  X 2  =  Age 26, 2013

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October 9, 2013   2 Comments



Yiddishe Cup has shared the stage with the Hungarian Scouts, Ukrainian Kashtan dancers, and Csardas, a Hungarian troupe. These groups draw fans to local festivals, and the dancers perform in difficult odd meters. Yiddishe Cup doesn’t draw many fans to these multicultural shows. The typical Jew doesn’t want to watch Ukrainians, Poles, or Hungarians dance.

At one festival, some of the folk dances had sappy English titles, like “My Little Cherry Tree” and “I Love You, Shepherd Boy.” I took the printed program home and looked up the real titles:

“Tylko We Lwowie” (Let’s Get Out of Lviv)

“Frogisic Sie Pani” (My Bagpipes are Soggy)

“Jaz Pa Ti” (Dad is Tipsy)

“Pytala Sie Pani” (Pierogis With Butter, Senator)

“Llactosi Nyasa Pilsenioya” (I Hate Milk and Like Beer)

“Jak Szybko Hund Chwile” (Jacko’s Chili Dog Is Outstanding)

“Nasza Jest, Noc Tylko” (Not Tonight, Not Tomorrow.)



I bought a raffle ticket for the St. Mary’s Church (Collinwood) fundraiser, Catholic Order of Foresters, Court #1640.

I bought the ticket from Stan. Stan’s father was Stan too.   Stan — my friend  Stan – got married at St. William’s Church, not St. Stan’s.  (St. Stan’s church is  Polish.  Stan is Slovenian.)

Stan’s wedding reception was at the big Slovenian National Home on  St. Clair Avenue at E. 65th Street. Stan hired his uncle’s polka band.  At the  wedding, we danced Slovenian-style polka — not the same as Polish-style polka.  (If you don’t know the difference, please see Harvey Pekar’s “Polka Wars” American Splendor, issue #16.)

Yiddishe Cup can play Slovenian! We’ve done Yankovic’s “Just Because” and “Blue Skirt Waltz,” and some charts from polka musician Joey Tomsick.

I won $20 in the St. Mary’s raffle.  I haven’t seen the money yet.

Slovenians are tight with a buck.  That’s their in-group reputation. Amongst themselves, Slovenians brag about their frugality, and they like to trash Lithuanians, who are even tighter.  Stan told me all this.

The St. Mary’s Church raffle was three years ago.  Stan, you owe me $23 — that’s $20 plus interest.   Pay up, Stan.  Any Stan.

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September 25, 2013   6 Comments


Think ethnic

Yiddishe Cup was nominated for the “best ethnic/world band.”  We were practically the only non-Afro/ non-reggae/ non-Caribbean/ non-Zydeco band in the contest.

With one email blast to our fan base, Yiddishe Cup would have won the Cleveland Music Award.

Sorry. Not our scene, Scene.   (Cleveland Scene magazine sponsored the contest.)  We did not want to email blast our Yiddishe Cup fans. We didn’t want to disturb world Jewry.

I think the judges — Scene editors — designed the ballot so we would win.  Their theory:  Young voters would spread their votes among the Afro bands, and Yiddishe Cup would pick up the rock-solid Jewish block.

Do you think the other bands held back on email blasts?  No! They sent out hundreds of emails: “Vote for us!” . . . “Make us number one!” . . . “We’re number one!”


The winner was Mifune, an Afrobeat hip-hop band.   Mifune — you can’t even pronounce that.  At least you can pronounce Yiddishe Cup (if you’re Jewish).

The most-recent music awards contest was in 2010.  Nothing since.*

Scene, please reboot. Yiddishe Cup wants to be number one.  We’re ready to rock and e-blast now.   Free Cleveland coconut bars to everybody who votes for Yiddishe Cup!

*News flash: Scene just held another music awards contest (September 2013).  There was no “ethnic/world” category.  Foul ball!

The photo at top is Daniel Ducoff (L) and Alan Douglass of Yiddishe Cup.  Their hats are Mongolian.



I was the landlord in a panel discussion, sponsored by the Cleveland Tenants Organization and the Center for Families and Children

I wore a sports coat and polo shirt.  I looked good.

One problem: there was no audience, to speak of (to). Only two people.  One had an apartment full of centipedes.  She had put her money in escrow for several months, and the landlord hadn’t gotten rid of the centipedes.  She said, “I don’t mind a bug or two, but I don’t like them crawling on my ceiling, and me, when I’m sleeping.”

She also said there were grain moths when she moved in. She said the city inspector came out and said, “Where do you shop?” Which she considered a veiled racial remark.  “Like he thought I shopped in the ghetto.  I shop where everybody else shops!”

The woman’s landlord should have gotten rid of the centipedes. I would have liked to have heard from the landlord.

The other person at the presentation had been booted out of her apartment. Her common-law husband had kicked her out.  She had two kids and lived on $400/month.

Mr. Polo Shirt – me — had nothing to say.  Come move in with me?  Nope.

Lead paint. That’s boring. The meeting ended on that note.

Centipede eats lead and dies

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September 11, 2013   6 Comments


I didn’t feel like playing the old Jewish standards, such as “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika.”   Instead I read neo-beatnik prose from my blog.

Bad move.

I was performing at a nursing home. A resident in the front row said, “Play something we know!” and walked out.

My accompanist — keyboardist Alan Douglass — told me to change my act.  He said, “The Who went to their greatest hits whenever they faltered.”

I stuck with the blog stuff.  I wanted to be like Dylan at Newport — my own man.

Again, bad move.

Afterward, I  told my wife,  ‘I feel like I just played Sowinski Playground.”  (Sowinski was a city playground where vicious rapes occurred in the 1960s.)

I’ve learned my lesson: My Ferlinghetti schtick  isn’t going to cut it at Myers Apartments independent living.  Next time I’ll play “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika.”



Robert Woodward, who died in June, was a newspaperman, but not the Bob Woodward of Watergate fame.

Robert Woodward worked as a clerk at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He was a tenant of mine.

Bob Woodward

He signed his lease renewals in green ink. I always made it a point to countersign in green. Sometimes I had to go out of my way to find a green pen. This went on for decades!

I’m not sure what Bob did at the PD. I occasionally saw him at the movies. He was a film buff. Once we coincidentally flew on the same flight to New York. He was going to see movies.

Woodward was a tenant for 37 years. He died at 65. He had been dead in his suite for about four days. A sister called. The cops went in.

Bob never bugged me, except for appliances. He never wanted people fixing stuff in his apartment.

This is not Bob’s life story!  For instance, not covered here:  Bob wrote op-eds about gay rights for the Plain Dealer and Wall Street Journal .

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August 14, 2013   1 Comment


Yiddishe Cup‘s Bert Stratton tries to identify musicians and songs from selected recordings.  Stratton received no prior information.  Ratings are 1 to 5.


1. “Oy Avram” Yiddish Princess

This recording reminds me of Daniel Kahn, the young Jew in Berlin.  Maybe he’s not so young.  Let’s call him 35.

Middle age is a long slog, isn’t it? What about 63, is that still middle age?

What’s really, really old? Anybody 10 years older than yourself.

The lead singer on this is Sarah Cooper — or whatever her name is.  She has a leaf blower in her right lung.  Sing, baby, sing! I give it a 5.

Sarah Mina Gordon, vocals; Michael Winograd, synths; Avi Fox-Rosen, guitar; Yoshie Fruchter, guitar; Ari Folman-Cohen, bass; Chris Berry drums.


2. “Blooz” Michael Winograd’s Infection

My philosophy is do something new every day, but always in relationship to the past and tradition.  If I have Kashi Island Vanilla today, I go with Kashi Autumn Wheat tomorrow. Sugar Pops, no thanks.  Corn Pops, double no thanks.  Call them what you will.  Joe’s O’s or Cheerios?  Depends.  I’ll go with Joe’s on Mondays and Cherrios on Tuesdays.  And don’t forget Ralston’s Tasteoos.

Miguel Winograd

This tune?  This is the Wino, Michael Winograd, on clarinet. He constructs his tunes with great care: one note, then silence, then another note.  Give it a 5.

Michael Winograd, clarinet; Frank London, trumpet; Daniel Blackberg, trombone; Brandon Seabrook guitar; Michael McLaughlin, accordion; Jason Nazary, drums.


3. “Sher 199” Bessarabian Hop. Michael Winograd 

Again with the Wino?  He’s sucking up all the klezmer oxygen.  Is he living in Barcelona?  New York?  L.A.?  He probably has three houses.  He’s big.

His clarinet is Canadian, that much I know.

I have no idea who his sidemen are, but they are very, very flexible.   They play with time and stretch out the composition. The accordion is a little choppy. It’s a 4.

Winograd, clarinet; Joey Weisenberg, mandolin; Patrick Farrell, accordion; Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; Daniel Blacksberg, trombone; Nick Cudahy, bass; Richie Barshay, drums.


4. “Epstein” Poykler’s Shloft Lied. Matt Temkin’s Yiddishe Jam Band

That’s got to be Temkin. He wears his hat backwards and hangs out in Brooklyn.

I know another backwards hat-wearing drummer, but in Cleveland. My guy is Greek and does apartment cleanups after fires. Married to a Jewish girl.  Plays some Jewish.

Frank London is on trumpet. That’s a no-brainer.  He’s on every klezmer record.

Clarinet and keys? I have no idea.

Temkin hires sidemen from the same  Brooklyn Home Depot parking lot as Winograd.  I wish the Home Depot in Cleveland had this kind of talent.  Give it a 4.

Temkin, drums; Mike Cohen, reeds; Binyomin Ginzberg, keys; Brian Glassman, bass; Rachel Lemisch, trombone; Allen Watsky guitar: Frank London. trumpet.


5. “Baladi” Balada. Bulgarian Wedding Music.  Yuri Yunakov

This is Slavic Soul Party.  Heavy brass and breakneck tempos. These guys drink slivovitz by the gallon. I have one word for them: slow down. Give it a 3.

Yunakov, alto sax; Neshko Neshev, accordion; Lauren Brody, synth; Seido Salifoski, dumbek; Catherine Foster, clarinet; Carol Silverman, vocals.


6. “Shake Hands with your Uncle Max” The Jewish Songbook.  Jason Alexander

Who is the singer?  He bears a strong resemblance to an incompetent.  Give it a 3.  No, a 2.   I’m seeing ghosts, I’m fainting. Give it a 1.

Alexander, vocals; Mike Garson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Don Heffington, drums; Marc Ellis, guitar.


7. “Mazl Tov Dances” You Should Be So Lucky! Maxwell Street Klezmer Band

A Mickey Katz tune, yes!  This is KCB [Klezmer Conservatory Band].

Yes, I know the Mickey Katz reboot is over, but not for me. I knew Mickey’s cousin.  She was in a nursing home in Cleveland.  She was about 100.  My hobby is Mickey’s geo-hagiography.  I walk by his [former] apartment in Cleveland Heights all the time.

The music is harmonically deep and soulful.  Give it a 5. Thank you, KCB!

Ralph Wilder, clarinet; Alex Koffman, violin; Ivo Braun, trumpet; Sam Margolis, trombone; Gail Mangurten, piano; David Rothstein, bass; Steve Hawk, percussion.


8. “Meshugge ’bout my Myed’l” Klezmerfats!  Peter Sokolow

Pete Sokolow

Sokolow is — forgive me — an animal.  A rhythmically complex animal.  Not only can he bang out chords, he can play — and can he talk; he’ll drey you a kup for three straight hours at KlezKamp, and all good stuff.  Read his interview with professor Phil Brown. That’s the best musician interview ever.

Pete combines earthiness, gravity and buoyancy.  What’s his weight these days?

I like to guess ages and weights. I’m taking this blindfold off.

Oh jeez, why didn’t you tell me you’re 500 pounds!

Pete, he’s ancient.  He’s 73.

A 4 rating.

Sokolow, piano, vocals.


9. “Ko Riboyn Olam” Stempenyu’s Dream.   Steven Greenman.

Greenman, about to rob a bank

I cheated.  I should put my blindfold back on. This is Greenman, the LeBron of klezmer violin.  But Steve didn’t take his talents to South Beach.  He stayed here [Cleveland]. Give Greenie a 5, on that alone.

Greenman, violin, vocals; Michael Alpert, violin, vocals; Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; Mark Rubin, bass.


10. “Rumenye”  Homesick Songs Golem


This is Reverend Gary Davis singing in Yiddish.  Joking, man.  Really out there, but good. It’s Ezekiel’s Wheels.

This is meaty.  I’m guessing the band weighs 1423 pounds, total.  I’m close.  What’s for lunch?  Give it a 4.7.

Annette Ezekiel, vocals, accordion; Aaron Diskin, vocals; Alicia Jo Rabins, violin; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, bass; Laura Cromwell, drums.

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June 26, 2013   9 Comments



I wore red Adidas tennis shoes to an audition for a soul band at E. 91st Street and Union Avenue.

The bandleader, Amos, liked my shoe color and my skin color. He said, “Ain’t no Holiday Inn going to hire no band without a white guy, and right now there ain’t nary a grain of salt in this room.”

I wasn’t too good on sax and harmonica, but I got the job.

Amos thought harmonica was corn pone, not a respectable axe for a black man, but it was OK for a white. He said, “We can use that harp. You hip to Tower of Power? They got a bad white dude on harp. You hip to War? Another bad brother of yours on harp.”

The keyboard player had doubts — not just about my playing. He didn’t like Amos’ pot smoking.

The keyboard player broke up the band a few weeks later. He said. “Weed is communicating with the demon.”

“What you think?” Amos said. “What you gonna do when we play cabarets and shit? It ain’t no motherfucking church!”

“I said, I quit.”

Regardless of the church/cabaret conflict, we would have broken up. At our next rehearsal, Amos’ son was on drums, then a woman drummer sat in. The other horn player — an old guy, about 40 — had no teeth. He said, “I can’t play without my choppers.” But he could play. He played bebop.

Amos wanted to try gut bucket blues, even country western. “I’m unemployed! I’ll try anything,” he said.

I stopped by the Hibachi Lounge at Union Avenue and E. 103rd Street, where we were scheduled to play. The bouncer wore a red jump suit and a red wide-brim hat; he shuckled (davened) at the pay phone like he was listening to Dial-A-Jewish-Concept. Several women line-danced to the jukebox.

The women stopped dancing when they saw me.

What's happnin', ladies?

Was I cool?

Ask the women.  I got out of there.


2. DETROIT 2002

Yiddishe Cup shared the bandstand with a soul band at a fancy wedding. I asked the soul singer if she had seen the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which had just come out.  She said her father, pianist Johnny Griffith, was in it.

The tenor player said, “The movie didn’t feature the horn players.  It should have.”

The tenor player tuned up.  He sounded better than most Yiddishe Cup jazz solos.

The tenor player liked our klezmer stuff, particularly our “Araber Tantz.” “What kind of scale is that?” he asked.

“In Yiddish it’s called freygish,” I said.  (Freygish is the “Hava Nagila” scale: E F G# A B C D E.) “It has a flatted second and a 1½-step leap from the second to the raised third.”

“Very cool,” he said.

About time.

Public service announcement.
For all you readers down in Wayne County (Wooster), Ohio.
From Ellen Pill:

Re Don’t Buy From the Jew!  A History of Jews in Wayne County, Ohio — 1840-1950.  

We are writing a book and looking for any information on early Jewish settlers in Wayne County and surrounding areas: photos; newspaper clippings; personal information; and especially, anecdotes about daily life.  Contact Ed Abramson:  330.345.5350 or Ellen Pill:

[Editorial comment from Bert Stratton:  Don’t Buy from the Jew. Harsh! My grandfather Albert Zalk ran a “Jew store” in Yazoo City, Mississippi. They liked him down in the Delta.  My wife’s grandfather George Rosen ran a “Jew store” in Clarksburg, West Virginia.  I was there a few times.  The town loved the Rosens.]

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June 12, 2013   4 Comments


Brittany, a tenant, said she saw five rats in her kitchen.  She hightailed it to her parents’ house in Sandusky, Ohio, and called me. “I’m tired,” she said.  “I have to drive in from Sandusky now every day for work.”

“You saw five rats at once?” I said.

“Yes. Your custodian said they were rats,” she said.

“They were probably mice,” I said.  I also told her to take $200 off her rent, and we would bring in a professional exterminator.

She said the rats crawled in her bed.

I paid the exterminator $102.  He sealed the apartment with caulk and put in mouse traps that looked like miniature tinted-glass limos.  Mice crawled into the limos and died. The mice were ready for the mouse funeral parlor.

Brittany showed me a cell phone pic, taken in her kitchen, of a dead rat.

I said, “Mouse.”

“That’s a rat,” she said.

I’ve seen maybe 50 trapped  mice and two trapped rats.  Rats are much bigger than mice.  Rats rip things up.  They’re like raccoons in your kitchen.  Rats rip bags to shreds.  Rats eat through concrete.

“You had a mouse,” I said.


“Please don’t say rats,” I said.

“OK, rodents.”

Yes! Success.

She moved out.



Drug Mart has a new mouse trap with an extra-wide feeding plate.  I’m not sure it’s a better mouse trap; I haven’t bought one.

My favorite traps are traditional spring-loaded Victors, from Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Drug Mart was out of Victors. I got the Chinese knock-offs. The instructions on the Chinese traps read: Ne pas mettre les doigts dans la trappe. Drug Mart must have gotten the traps from a Canadian buyout. Recommended bait: fromage, saucisson, jambon, beurre de cachuetes.  I figured all that out, except saucisson.

I looked up saucisson: French hard salami.

Mice live well in Canada.

I don’t blame my tenant, Brittany,  for moving out.  A rodent — a mouse or rat –- crawling in your bed is serious.  Rodents should stay in the kitchen, where they belong.


This will take your mind off rats.


A Yiddishe Cup musician sent this pic from a gig to his friends. (My sidemen are always taking pictures.)

The pic was murky and scary. The musician captioned the photo: “Wildest gig ever. Upside-down acrobat pouring champagne for the guests.”

Another musician – not at the gig – wrote back: “Wild Gig? What did I miss!”

The absent musician missed the upside-down acrobat. Compared to a bar mitzvah, it was a wild gig.

The event was a fundraiser for a community college.

Not salacious enough for you. Right.


Yiddishe Cup plays 6:15-7:45 p.m Mon., April 15, at Landerhaven for Cleveland’s community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.  Free.  David Broza is on at 8 p.m.

The Klezmer Guy trio plays 7 p.m. Tues., April 23, at Nighttown, Cleveland Hts.  $10.  More info here.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton, Tamar Gray. (Photo by Ralph Solonitz)

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April 10, 2013   1 Comment


Yiddishe Cup calls its act “neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy.”  That’s been done before —  the Borscht Belt schtick.   For starters, about 60 years ago.

Yiddishe Cup can fill a golden age center in Miami. Then what?  Take it on the road to the Bronx Hebrew Home for the Aged. Then return to Miami and stay there.  And don’t forget your meds, guys.  You’re not getting any younger.

Has Yiddishe Cup ever toured for weeks, developing a solid groove, establishing decent ensemble chops?


On weekends the band collects inflatable guitars at bar mitzvahs, eats baked salmon, and watches “reflections” videos.

Does Yiddishe Cup research old Yiddish tunes at YIVO?  Does anybody in Yiddishe Cup know where YIVO is?  [New York.]  Or what YIVO means?  Does anybody? [Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut.]

One more thing: dynamics. Ever heard that word, Yiddishe Cup?


 Klez bandleaders, please submit your recordings for review here.  You have nothing to gain.


This post is a rerun (from 4/20/11). No, I’m not running out of material. I just like this one. Happy Passover.


Bialy’s Bagels in University Heights, Ohio, was my bagel supplier for years. I would go swimming; go to Bialy’s and buy 15 bagels; eat two; drive to my mother’s; give her three; and take the rest home.bialys-slender-pic1

I was on a bagel diet. I thought eating sesame and poppy seed bagels was a smart weight-control maneuver.

My back-up bagel purveyor was Amster’s at Cedar Center. The counter woman there, Marilyn Weiss, volunteered for school levies, racial integration projects, and did a ton of schlep work at my shul. Amster’s was all about Marilyn’s personality. Unfortunately she died in 2000, and the place closed a few years later.

I also went to Better — as in “Better Bagel” — on Taylor Road. The owners were New Yorkers who wore yarmulkes and Brooklyn Dodgers shirts. I figured they knew bagels.

They didn’t. Their bagels were too doughy and not crispy enough on the outside. Better Bagel eventually changed its name to Brooklyn Bagel.

No better.


Go to Bialy’s. If Bialy’s ever closes, we’re in bagel trouble in Cleveland.

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March 27, 2013   7 Comments


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

“Donny Mann” 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 renowned Polish pianist and statesman.  Jan Paderewski of Cleveland was a stand-up comedian, restaurant owner and pianist.  He played light classical and standards. Jan Paderewski of Cleveland died in 2000.

"Donny Mann" 2011

Donny Mann attended Berklee in 1961, when Berklee was just one building with a couple hundred students.  Donny dropped out.  Back then that was the idea: drop out and play gigs.  Still is.

Donny Mann’s first pro gig was pre-Berklee, 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, starting 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 Belson, among others.

“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 too.   Gino was a bit past his prime —  past his fame.”

“Gino who?”  I said.

“Gene Krupa.  Everybody called him Gino, at least among friends.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome the coolest guy (by a narrow margin) in Yiddishe Cup:  the one and only Don-ny Man-n!

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February 27, 2013   2 Comments


I look for musical yikhes (lineage/pedigree) wherever I can find it.  My grandmother played piano at a white Baptist church in Yazoo City, Mississippi.  Not bad.

This Mississippi bubbe — Ida Kassoff Zalk — had a brother, Earl Kassoff, in Cleveland.  Earl was a drummer, xylophonist and house painter.  He went by the stage name Earl Castle, and led bands in the 1930s and 1940s.


In the 1990s — when I first began looking for musical yikhes — I couldn’t find much info on Earl.  I talked to a couple relatives.  Earl didn’t leave behind sheet music or tune books.  He died in 1969.

At a Yiddishe Cup gig, an elderly musician schmoozed with me.  I asked him if he knew Earl Kassoff.  Yes, he  remembered Earl.  The schmoozer was Harold Finger, age 77.  He had made a living playing clarinet and sax during the 1930s and 1940s.

I took my tape recorder to Harold’s apartment and interviewed him. He said there were “four or five bands that got the Jewish work.”

I asked, “What bands?”  He didn’t remember the names.  “What were the most popular Jewish tunes?” I said.

He said, “The songs from the Kammen Book. That was the big thing.”

The Kammen International Dance Folio, published in 1924, is still around.  The Kammen book is to Jewish music what a sex manual is to sex. (Pianist Pete Sokolow makes this statement at most KlezKamp conventions.)


My Uncle Earl’s band did mostly “dance work” — American music, Harold said. Earl worked the downtown theaters, as well as the Golden Pheasant — a Chinese restaurant where Artie Shaw started.

Harold said he didn’t stick to the melody all the time. He did some “faking” (improvising).  Now he played clarinet with a community orchestra.  “I don’t do much jobbing anymore,” he said.  (Jobbing is gigging.)

Harold died three years after the interview.  I thought his kids might enjoy the  interview tape, from 1992, so I called a Finger relative and left a message in the mid-1990s.

I didn’t hear back.

The relative should have called!  Harold’s wife was on the tape, teasing Harold about how he loved his saxophone more than her.  Harold said, “What? I quit playing music for you!”

Michiganders, come to the Klezmer Guy show at The Ark, Ann Arbor, Feb. 15. 8 p.m. $20.  Bert Stratton on clarinet and prose, Alan Douglass on piano and vocals, Gerald Ross on ukulele and Hawaiian lap steel guitar. Prose pieces will contain words such as “Ann Arbor,” “Michigan”  and “Rudy Tomjanovich.”

More on Mississippi Ida — my bubbe — later.  Maybe not.

Yikhes update.  Check out the latest from Jack Stratton’s band, Vulfpeck.

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February 6, 2013   6 Comments


At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to Barbra Streisand recordings.  She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals.  (She read only from a handful.)

Eight years later, the bride emailed me and asked if I remembered her.

Yes.  And I remembered the bridal dance we had played, and how we opened for a soul band (a good band), and how I announced the bridal party individually; one groomsman was Billy Wisse.

I had said Billy Weiss.   He thanked me.  I explained to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard.  I’ve heard the name pronounced before.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

“No! Where do you teach?” I said.  The Wisse family is scholarly; David Roskies, Ruth Wisse’s brother, is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Billy said, “I write questions for Jeopardy.”

“That’s a job?” I said, pulling out a pen and jotting down Billy’s email address. My son Teddy — a college student then — would love a job at Jeopardy upon graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team. (Quiz Bowl is Jeopardy minus the money.)

Two years later, Brandeis played in Los Angeles for the national championship. Teddy was on the Brandeis team. I gave Billy’s email to Ted.

Ted and his Brandeis teammates met with Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two years after that (2004), Ted got a business call at our house.  He had recently graduated college. He wouldn’t pick up the phone. I yelled, “Pick up the phone, Teddy!  It’s for you.”

Sony was on the line.

Sony owns Jeopardy. Sony offered Ted a slot on Jeopardy as a contestant. Sony sent a contract via FedEx. One paragraph read (paraphrased): “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you can not be on the show.”

Teddy did not know Billy Wisse!  Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast two years prior for one-half hour.  Also, there had been other Brandeis players at that breakfast.

At Sony Studios in Culver City, California, Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. Alex Trebek, the show’s host, wore a cast on his wrist. He had fallen off a ladder, he told the studio audience.  He had been cleaning his gutters.  Sounded odd to me. (I was in the peanut gallery.) A Hollywood guy cleans his own gutters?  Maybe. There are low gutters in California.

Alex Trebek and Ted Stratton, 2004. (Show aired in 2005)

Jeopardy tapes five shows a day. The show’s contestants for that day sat in rows isolated from the studio audience.  Whenever an on-deck contestant went to the bathroom, he or she was escorted by a guard from Standards and Practices, which monitored cheating.

The first game was between an Idaho man, a Washington state woman, and the defending champ, “a schoolteacher from Lancaster, Ohio.”

The Jeopardy stagehand said, “Lights, camera.”  But no “action.”  Wisse and other Jeopardy employees huddled at the side of the set.  They looked at computers and talked to each other.  This went on for about a half hour.

Wisse, you do not know my son.  Have rachmones (pity), Wisse.  You see 11 Jeopardy contestants per day; they’re mostly all young white guys who look alike.  You do not know Teddy!

The Jeopardy people couldn’t locate the appropriate random packet of questions for the first game.  That was the hold-up. Everything had to be kosher — up to Standards and Practices.

Teddy didn’t play that morning.

Lunch break was at Quizno’s for the peanut gallery. (The contestants ate in the Sony cafeteria.)  At Quizno’s, the girl friend of one contestant said, “I don’t care if Jonathan wins or loses.  I don’t love him for his game playing.”

Shut up.  I was so nervous I couldn’t eat.

Teddy didn’t play the game after lunch either.  I asked an usher, “What if my son doesn’t play today?”

She shrugged.

Teddy made it onto the final game of the day.  He faced a Boston book editor — the defending champ — and “a graduate student originally from Johnson City, Tennessee.”  That was Jeopardy-speak for “a graduate student now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing a post-doc at MIT.”

Ted did well in the Double Jeopardy category “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. The “Our Lady” questions covered Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others.  This is what my son learned at Brandeis.

Heading into Final Jeopardy, the Tennessee grad student was in first place.  Ted was in second, and the defending champ, Boston book editor, was in third.

The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children. The answer was: “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.”

I felt like I was watching my kid line up a 50-yard field goal at the Ohio State-Michigan game with one second left on the clock.  That is the weird part about being a parent — all that collateral joy and pain. Merv Griffin’s Jeopardy think-music ended.

The Boston editor, in third place, answered, “Who is Peter Pan?”

Right-o.  She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” Right. He went up to $13,399.

The graduate student from Tennessee said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek announced, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio!”

Footnote:  For $500, “Who is Billy Wisse?”  Answer: a mentsh.

For a blow-by-blow of the game, see Robert KS’ J! Archive.

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January 23, 2013   No Comments


When a groom shops for a band, he doesn’t care what he gets. He is usually on assignment from the bride. I’ve rarely heard a groom say, “Yiddishe Cup is wonderful!” It’s more like “What’s your minimum — minimum hours and minimum rate?”

One groom said to me, “Let’s cut to the chase.  What’s your price?”

I gave him a fair price and we made a deal.  Bye.

A friend told me to act more alive on the phone. She coached me: “Say, ‘Hel-LOH, this is Bert STRATtin!’’  I did it that for one day.

If a groom likes the price, beautiful. But he might call the next day and say, “Man, my fiancée is just totally unwavering!  She wants this horrible other band now. If it were up to me, I’d have you. Change of plans, sorry.”

“No problem,” I say. “Marriage is full of compromises.  Get used to it.”

Old bandleader advice.

When a bride asks about cool wedding venues, I mention Windows on the River in The Flats, the Cuyahoga National Park (Bath, Ohio), the Shaker Country Club and Manakiki club.

Brides — at least some of them — don’t want the standard wedding mill, aka Landerhaven party center, by the freeway in Mayfield Heights.

On a typical Saturday night at Landerhaven, the place is hopping with four or five parties: there is background jazz in the Michelle Room; in the East Ballroom, an Asian Indian DJ; in the Lander Room, Yiddishe Cup. During breaks, I hop from one party room to another, talking to musicians and sightseeing. At a Sikh wedding, the groom rides through the parking lot on a white horse to meet the bride.

Landerhaven’s food is good, and the help is attentive, but Landerhaven is very faux Fontainebleau — so many mirrors and fountains.  Brides often want less.

Yiddishe Cup played a gig where the bride married an American Indian by a creek. It rained the whole time.  That wedding moved into a lodge, which held, at most, 50 people.  We could barely find room to toot our horns. At Landerhaven, you’re not going to have problems like that. Landerhaven is well-run.  No surprises at Landerhaven, except maybe the guy on the white horse.

Another option: rent a tent.  Some Jews love to worry and the tent is perfect for that.  At one tent gig, in Dayton, Ohio,  the caterers used 30-gallon wastebaskets to catch the rain pouring in.

Yiddishe Cup's Steve Ostrow, Hunting Valley, Ohio, 2010. No rain.

Yiddishe Cup played a wedding for an anthropology professor and a German professor.

Here’s how it went down, anthropologically speaking:

a) In the Midwest, the band often works Ohio State and Michigan into the repertoire.  The anthro prof’s mother was a Michigan grad, and the groom’s dad was from Ohio State.  We played “Hang on Sloopy” for Ohio State and “Hail to the Victors” for Michigan.

b)  Yiddishe Cup’s bassist sang “Du, Du Liegst Mir In Herzen.”  This bombed.  The German guests — real Germans from Germany — didn’t like it.  Apparently, Germans don’t show much outward pride in their folk culture.  And at a Jewish wedding, who can blame them. (Yiddishe Cup has played “Alouette” for French Canadians and “Guantanamera” for Hispanics, and they like hearing from us.) The Germans were no funt.

c)  When Yiddishe Cup had a wedding guest sing with us, I said, “Attention, anthropologists, please welcome one of the stars of Jewish pop.  He has appeared all over the world . . . Yehuda Cik!”  Yehuda is a former neo-Hasidic Ortho pop star.   Yehuda sang the last verse of L’Cha Dodi, the Sabbath welcoming prayer.  Big hit.

Sometimes the bride and groom are starry-eyed; sometimes, not.

Years later I run into the moms of the brides.  The moms tells me the “kids” are now divorced — the starry-eyed kids.

I run into an old groom. He says, “Isabel and Isaac, this is Mr. Stratton.  He played Mommy and Daddy’s wedding.”   Was the groom starry-eyed at his wedding?  Give me a break.  I can’t remember.  I play a lot of weddings.

The groom is still married after 12 years. He says his daughter’s bat mitzvah is coming up. “She’s a popular kid,” he says.

“That’s bad. Popular kids usually want DJs,”  I say.

Two add-ons . . .

1. Dave Brubeck vid

2. On the website, 12/6/12. “Keep the Plain Dealer Dealin’.”

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December 11, 2012   2 Comments

OF 2012

Notso Kosher Records

My desk is piled high with free CDs: Ezekiel’s Wheels, Golem, all kinds of Dutch and Polish bands, and the old standbys — Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmatics.

The 12 best klez CDs of 2012 jumped out of the pile and said, “Kiss me, I’m Jewish.”

These recordings (listed below) are the nonrequired klezmer albums for the year.  These recordings are essential:

1. Orlando, 3 Days, 2 Nights. Frank London and his Klezmer Brass All-Stars lead us on a klez tour of Disney World. Talk about selling out – but a good selling out.  The cut “Mickey’s Philharmonic” features London on electric toothbrush — pulse position.  “Whistle While You Work” is all about short people — Jewish short people: Billy Crystal, Abe Beame and Menachem Begin, and that’s just the first 30 seconds.

2. I Believe in CodAndy Statman flips out.  Sample lyrics: “May cod bless you and guide you . . . . Praise cod in the high heaven and in the deep sea . . . Teeming oceans, fire and hail, snow and mist, storm and wind, obey cod’s will.”

3. The Room Where I Was Born.  Violinist Steven Greenman recreates the aural architecture of his childhood bedroom in Pittsburgh.  Check out the Steelers pennants and Fiddler on the Roof LPs. Greenman does a cover version of the Klezmorim’s “Medyatsiner Waltz,” which itself was a cover. Sweaty and no A/C.

Alan Douglass, Yiddishe Cup enforcer, 2011

4. This Can’t Be Klezmer by Yiddishe Cup. This Ohio band goes outside the matzo box and constructs a toy jail, complete with corporal punishment. Perfect for the heartbroken, horny and dead.  Yiddishe Cup mixes barely adequate musicianship with a touch of humor.  On “Toot,” an earthy trombone solo morphs into a mimicry of flatulence.  It doesn’t sound like klezmer, but what did you expect from This Can’t Be Klezmer?

5.  Nonhierarchical Dynamics by tsimblist Pete Rushefsky.  Nothing on the 1 and 3; it’s all off-beats.  Drives you crazy, but in a provocative way.  There is an after-party. You have to be in New York City to get full value.  Beer by Brooklyn Brewing.  Be there.

6. The Recluse by Merlin Shepherd.  Shepherd, a British clarinetist and actor, reads Thomas Hardy poems while his wife, Polina, does consecutive Russian translation. The clarinet licks are sparse, but apropos to lyrics.  Novel.

7. Correspondence by Michael Wex.  Wexmaniacs,  you’ll love this: 60 LOL minutes of Wex badinage from his KlezKanada emceeing.  Can anybody top Wex’s Walter-Brennan-is-a-Jew riff?   No.  Almost as good: Wex’s riff about trash-talking Miami Heat Yiddish-spewers.   All but LeBron, who remains the Hebraist.

8. Odorless and ColorlessShtreiml.  Bandleader Jason Rosenblatt spent years in the lab on this one.  This record is rotten.  It contains sulfur.  Le jazz hot — and funky — from Montreal.

Jack Stratton, about 2008

9. Without a Net. Acrobat-and-drummer Jack Stratton uses metal parts from surgeries gone bad — mostly hip replacements — to perform Meron-klez drum licks.  Particularly good: “Blur Blind,” “Bodies Thrown Back” and “Clarity.”  The rest of the album is pretty conventional.

10. I Want to Make You Edible by Yiddish Princess.  Lead singer Sarah Gordon does freestyle rapping here about cereal (Kashi Autumn Wheat and Island Vanilla), which leads to kishke, which leads to ka-ka.  Juvenile.  And fun!

11. Red-Dirt Jewboys. Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys go down to Georgia on this one.  How does Margot  balance her terrific cross-cultural composing and heavy drinking?  Margot is the klezmer mixologist for the 21st century.  Her next album is, efsher, Klezmer Gamelan?

12. Blackout. Henry Sapoznik and the Original Klezmer Jazz Band give us a wake-up call: Pete Sokolow pounds stride-piano chords while Sapoznik plays electric banjo.  On the last cut, Sapoznik smashes his banjo and picks up a clarinet. Tons of squeaks.  Sapoznik whines like a fourth-grader at the end: “I quit!  I quit!”

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December 5, 2012   6 Comments


Yiddishe Cup has played in 19 states and Ontario.

Our most recent state is Massachusetts.

I didn’t tell anybody about our Massachusetts gig, except Ari Davidow, the dictator of Klezmershack, a Boston-based website.

I didn’t shout, “We’re playing Boston!”  Wouldn’t be right.   I didn’t want to drive the Mass. bands crazy. There are so many good Jewish wedding bands in Massachusetts.

How did Yiddishe Cup get the Massachusetts gig?   Connections.  My cousin Margie.  She hired us for a wedding.

Mass. football huddle

The band stayed at the Marriott near the Natick mall.  The food court at the mall had take-out Indian food; you don’t see that very often in Cleveland.

Yid Map

Notice, we haven’t played Kentucky.  That irks me!

Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played.   Twelve years ago, I gave Daniel magnet-investment advice.  I told him to buy “Kentucky.”

Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close to Ohio.

What’s with Texas?  We’ve played Texas three times.  Once at Temple Emanu El in Dallas, and twice at the Chamizal National Memorial park in El Paso.

Some people think Yiddishe Cup plays only in Cleveland.  I hope this map straightens them out.

Buckeyes and fellow travelers, here are the Ohio towns we have played. (Obama and Romney have nothing on Yiddishe Cup.):

Elyria, Akron, Lorain, Warren, Youngstown, Oberlin, Wooster, Lakeside, Toledo, Springfield, Alliance . . .

Kent, Canton, Granville, Gambier, Lancaster, Findlay, Columbus, Delaware, Hiram, Cincinnati, Dayton, Oxford, Celina, Urbana.

You can find good Arabic food in Toledo.

Gambier is not a real town.  It has a post office, bookstore, pizza parlor and Kenyon College.   Mount Vernon — an authentic town –- is just a few miles from Kenyon.   Hey, we played a wedding in Mount Vernon.  Please add “Mount Vernon” to the list.

Yiddishe Cup probably won’t play on the West Coast unless one of my sons marries a West Coaster and the wedding is out there.  That’s our best hope.  Boychicks, you can use a DJ for the breaks.  No problem.

Yiddishe Cup’s number-two hang-out state is Michigan . . . Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo, Calumet, East Lansing, Evert and Grand Rapids.

Calumet is in the Upper Peninsula.  We  flew there via Minneapolis.  We should have played for change in the Minnie airport so we could color in Minnesota on the map.

Michigan has so few cities.  What percentage of Michiganders live in Metro Detroit?  My guess is 33 percent.  [42 percent –- Google.]

Mappin’ . . . Have you looked at a map today?  (Electoral College maps don’t count.)

My op-ed “It’s Campaign Season; Ohio is Swingin was in the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer.  (Similar to post below.)

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November 6, 2012   2 Comments

Egos Bruised, Teeth Jarred

Yiddishe Cup played a wedding in a backyard in Connecticut where the floor partially collapsed.  The ground became soggy underneath the tent, which was built into the side of a hill.  The tent grid work — which supported the plywood floor — sunk.  About 50 semi-drunken partygoers did athletic hora steps and pogo-ing, and the floor buckled.

The groom’s mom told me to stop the music.

I  didn’t. You can’t stop the hora at a wedding; it’s bad luck for the marriage.  I said, “Two more minutes.”  She said no, and jumped onto the bandstand and yanked the saxophone from my mouth. Luckily, I wasn’t playing clarinet (different embouchure, more likely to damage my teeth). I said, “Don’t ever do that again!”  She was oblivious to me.   She frantically dialed her phone for a repairman.

The tent-repair crew arrived shortly, and during a break the crew crawled under the tent and put in extra supports.  The mom had the band playing only background music. We sounded like a string quartet at a funeral.  We didn’t want anybody to dance, because the floor would collapse even more.   We had traveled 500 miles to play tepid tunes like “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Tumbalalaika,” and have my ax yanked.  What a letdown.

The dancing picked up after the repair crew fixed the support grid work.  Lots of ruach (spirit), and no more assaults on my teeth.



Watch out,  literature here . . .



13 Jews are in line
for omelets


A woman says
“Do I want the mushroom omelet?”
Is she talking to me?
To herself


The beauty of the East Coast
Red maples in Connecticut
We’ve come a long way


Why do I imagine everybody at this wedding
is thin and wearing black?
Because everybody is thin and wearing black


“You’re from somewhere near Hungary,” I say
“Finland,” the woman says
“Don’t they share a language bond?”
I’m on a losing streak with accents


Where is the euphony?
This band is loud
This band is Yiddishe Cup
Turn it down, guys!


We are in the Berkshires
The leaves are falling
So are we

The tent and Yiddishe Cup, Lakeville, Conn., 2010

I wrote this op-ed, “Main Street’s Landlord,” for the New York Times, 9/30/12. (Illustration by
Rebecca Mock.)

Yiddishe Cup plays for Simchat Torah 7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 7, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Oct. 8, Park Synagogue. Cleveland.

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October 3, 2012   3 Comments


The Jazz Temple was a music club in a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.   Coltrane played there.  Dinah Washington tooEverybody played there.  The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963.

I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in University Circle, Cleveland.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple.  Rabbi Silver was  very prominent; he spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the establishment of the state of Israel.  Rabbi Silver’s son, Danny, was the assistant rabbi.  He played football at Harvard and blocked hard for his dad.

The Sunday school kids at The Temple were mostly from Shaker Heights.  One kid got a ride in a limo to shul.  The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap.

I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into a non-Jewish setting, like in “Jazz Temple.”  Was Jazz a religion too?  (Give me a break. I was 10.)

Years later, I met a couple ex-beatniks who had been old enough to go to the Jazz Temple in the early 1960s.  They had heard Trane and Ella.

The Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963.  Somebody didn’t like the club, or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman.

At The Temple, the religious-school kids would attend the last part of the service and hear the sermon.  Rabbi Silver looked like God and talked like Him.

Today, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is an Abba Hillel Silver memorial study.  The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963.

Rabbi Silver: Live at the Jazz Temple.  Interesting.

John Coltrane: Live at The Temple.  Another possibility.

A love supreme . . .

A love supreme . . .



In the arts, if you’re precious, you’re bad. Precious is the worst thing. Precious means you’re dainty and overly refined.

A friend (a former music critic) called all college a cappella music precious.

Harvey Pekar called Willio and Phillio — the Cleveland music-comedy duo — precious. (Willio and Phillio was around in the 1980s.) Willio and Phillio was precious — their stage name for sure. Willio (Will Ryan) went out to Los Angeles to work for Disney, and Phillio (Phil Baron) became a cantor in L.A. They were good, and probably still are.

Yiddishe Cup is precious occasionally. The musicians say “oy vey” too much on stage. I’ve tried to get my guys to stop. I can’t.

Peter Laughner, a Cleveland rocker, died from drug abuse and alcoholism at 24. He killed himself, basically. (This was in 1977.) He was not precious. He was dead — and funny — about art. He was in the Pere Ubu underground before Pere Ubu was famous.

Suicide doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons: 1) My wife would kill me if I tried it. 2) I want to attend my kids’ weddings and eventually meet my grandkids-to-be.

“Precious” is OK for grandkids. (“Grandkids” is precious.)


New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .


Chester Ave., Cleveland, 2011

I drove to Rochester, Michigan, which is not as cool as Rochester, New York, but it does have a small-town charm.

I’ve seen Father Coughlin’s former church in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I’ve been to Detroit many times.

My wife, Alice, said, “Detroit has very long roads.”

She probably meant Woodward, Gratiot and Telegraph.

Detroit also has the Lodge. Elmore Leonard mentions the Lodge in his books, like, “The gambling casino, Mutt, you can’t fucking miss it, over by the Lodge freeway.”

A couple Cleveland freeways and bridges have names, like the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, but nobody ever uses the names.

I stayed at a hotel near the Silverdome, which looked like a big pillow. (The stadium did.) A Detroiter told me the Silverdome sold for about $200,000. A stadium for the price of a California carport.

Who was John C. Lodge? Probably a labor leader. [No, the mayor of Detroit in the 1920s.]

Detroit is like Cleveland. Detroit has the Eastern Market; Cleveland has the West Side Market. Detroit has downtown casinos. Now Cleveland has a downtown casino.

Metro Detroit has a few more Jews than Cleveland. And probably more Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians. And more blacks.

People who wear Tiger caps are cool, as are Indians cap wearers.

What about Berkley, Michigan? Is that worth a visit?

Elmore Leonard eats at the Beverly Hills Café. I wonder if that’s part of the Beverly Hills Café chain, or an independent restaurant in Beverly Hills, Michigan.

I wonder if Elmore Leonard spends his winters in Detroit. I bet he doesn’t. He writes a lot about Florida.

I have some Elmore Leonard junk mail.

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. That’s worth reading.

Maple means 15 Mile. Big Beaver is 16 Mile.

What about Oakland University? Does the university have Bobby Seale barbecue sauce in the cafeteria?

I live only three and a half hours from Berkley, Beverly Hills and Oakland.

Yiddishe Cup pulls into Motown Sunday. See us at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich.,
2 p.m., Sept. 9. Open to the public. Concert info here.

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September 5, 2012   7 Comments