Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


Category — On the Road


I was down and out in a Marriott hotel in Troy, Mich.   The bride, several hours earlier, had told me, “I can’t dance in these shoes.  Can I just watch the hora?”

She watched.  I asked her three times if she wanted to be lifted on the chair.  No, she said three times.  The bride and groom stood in the middle of the hora circle like statuettes on a wedding cake.

There was no place to walk at the Marriott, which was in a large shopping development.

Marriott Hotel, Troy, Mich.

Marriott Hotel, Troy, Mich.

I wrote notes to myself on the hotel stationery to justify my existence.  My truest observation: “Yiddishe Cup is providing a valuable service for the Jewish communities of the Midwest.”

The Marriott room had 8 pillows, 10 towels, 2 beds and 2 bathroom mirrors that showed everything.

I couldn’t justify 8 pillows, 10 towels, etc.  I just couldn’t.  That bride should have danced.

Luckily the hotel windows didn’t open.

Yiddishe Cup  plays this Sunday (Nov. 7, 4 p.m.) at the Brecksville United Church of Christ, Brecksville, Ohio.

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

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November 5, 2010   1 Comment

. . . TOWNS

My nephew visits Big League baseball stadiums around the country as a hobby.

I visit Big League klezmer towns in the Midwest as a hobby. My remarks (below) are challah-to-challah comparisons.  I’m not comparing Milwaukee to Paris.

The best Midwest klezmer towns:

1. Pittsburgh . . .  Squirrel Hill, Shadyside. Everything you need. (Pittsburgh is not in the Midwest, but so what.  It is west of the Alleghenies.)

Hebrew clock. Pittsburgh JCC

Hebrew clock. Pittsburgh JCC

2. Chicago. The Midwest klez capital. Maxwell Street Klezmer Band is the band in the Midwest. A Cleveland boy — a Northwestern student — worked in the Maxwell Street office; I had that kid wired. Yes, a klez band with office help. Chi is that big. Powerful klezmer forces prevail in Chi. Max Street does not allow Ohio bands within 80 miles of The Loop.  Yiddishe Cup played Rockford, Ill., once.

3. Detroit. West Bloomfield, a Motown suburb, has Temple Israel, a very attractive modern temple. There is such a thing.  At concerts, the Temple Israel ark is curtained off by a striking yarmulke mandala.

Yiddishe Cup at Temple Israel, 2010

Yiddishe Cup at Temple Israel, 2010

4. Kansas City — as marvelously tough as Cleveland. KC’s Country Club Plaza is like Shaker Square but bigger and older.

5. St. Louis. Yiddishe Cup played there twice, then it all died out — the gigs. My Cleveland rabbi, who is from St. Louis, has a couple seats from the old Busch stadium. He should install the seats on our shul’s bima (altar) and invite Enos  Slaughter to give the d’var torah (torah lesson/sermon). Good custard — Ted Drewes — in St. Louis.  Similar to Cleveland’s East Coast Original Frozen Custard.

6. Milwaukee. Its claim to fame: songwriter Sigmund Snopek III, who wrote “Thank God This isn’t Cleveland.”

7. Minneapolis. There are a lot of klez bands up there: Prairie Heym Klezmorim, Klezmerica, etc. Too much klez in Minnie.  Yiddishe Cup will never play there.

8. Cincinnati. The Plum Street Temple, where Stephen Wise officiated, is the most rakish and Moorish synagogue in the country. Check it out.

Plum Street Temple

Plum Street Temple

9. Buffalo. Terrific art museum. Underrated.

10. Indianapolis. Overrated. A suburb of Atlanta.

Cleveland isn’t ranked. That wouldn’t be fair. But off the record, Cleveland is number one.

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November 3, 2010   5 Comments



Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, flies frequently for his day job as  university fundraiser.  He knows which security lines are fastest. Even if he’s flying Continental, he’ll often switch to the quicker Southwest line at Cleveland airport.

Man against the machine . . .

My Uncle Al griped about tour bus drivers in Israel who turned the air conditioning too high.

My parents had travel stories about drunken Russians on cruise ships. And I heard about haggling for a gold wine bottle in Italy. I saw the slides.

I threw out the slides.  I have one left:  my parents at The Wall in Jerusalem.  My dad had on Jack Purcells.  He was always in a hurry.

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

My dad kept a list of his purchases abroad. Here it is, abbreviated:

Rosewood carving of temple dog. Bangkok
Ceramic bells. Israel
Porcelain-in-pewter bowl. Hong Kong
Brass circular dish. Morocco
Wool flokati rug. Athens

My parents didn’t buy all that much.  No jewelry and not much clothes.  My dad left me plenty, but very little clothing. I’m not complaining.  I got  buildings.



Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played.  Sometimes I give Daniel magnet investment advice.  For instance, 10 years ago I told him to buy “Kentucky.”

It was getting on my nerves — not playing Kentucky.  Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close, to Ohio.

The conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra has played in 10 foreign countries and 29 states.  Who’s counting.

Next month Yiddishe Cup plays Connecticut — a state which isn’t even on our screen.  Is Connecticut a legitimate state?  Does it have a state bird? Connecticut seems more a township or shire than a state.

Yiddishe Cup has played Ohio, Indiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, Canada and, shortly, Connecticut.

Connecticut but no Kentucky.  Why?

Yiddishe Cup plays in Lakeville, Conn., on 10/10/10 for a wedding. Klezmer bandleaders from the Northeast will not be happy to read this.

Or maybe they won’t care.  Maybe they’ll all be in Kentucky that day.



The Greensboro Furniture Mart
is happening.

No beds except at the seedy hotel
across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint

Are we in Amsterdam?

Continental breakfast
The Corn Flakes in the Styrofoam bowl
need milk
for weight
Too late
Where’s the broom?

Musicians with instruments
at the Delta counter
“Our gig was colder than an MF,” their drummer says
“You played outside?” our singer says
The Neville Brothers’ drummer
Even the big boys freeze their pupiks.  


1 of 2 posts for 9/29/10.  Please see the post below too.

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September 29, 2010   4 Comments


Stan Ebin, a Dixieland trumpeter and radio DJ, played these tunes on WKHR-FM:

1. “Hora Staccato.”  Rafael Mendez, trumpet.  Didn’t Dave Tarras record this same tune?  [Yes.]  (Listener’s GPS location: I-90 at Lakewood/McKinley Ave.)

2. “Blues in C# Minor.” Roy Eldridge, trumpet.  (I-90 at West 117th Street by White Castle.)

3. “Lena from Palestina.”  Buffalo Ridge Jazz Band from Cincinnati.  This tune, like “Hora Staccato,” is part of the klezmer repertoire.   (There are three “C” Innerbelt exits in a row: Central, Carnegie and Chester avenues.)

4. “Bless this House.”  Four-part barbershop harmony, all on trumpet, overdubs by Roger Blackburn.  (Carnegie Avenue at East 55th Street, by the old Warner & Swasey factory, where machinists made machine tools with machine tools.)

5.”Basin Street Blues.” Louis Prima, trumpet and vocals; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet.  (Carnegie Avenue by the Cleveland Clinic banner “One of America’s Top 4 Hospitals.”  What are the other three?  Mayo Clinic, New York-Presbyterian and Johns Hopkins?  No.  Add Mass General, delete New York-Presbyterian.)

6. “I Can’t Get Started.”  Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet.  Ebin, the DJ, says, “Dizzy is stealing from Bunny Berigan.”  (Stokes Boulevard by the Baldwin Water Works Plant.)

7. “Wah-Hoo.”  Hoosier Hot Shots.  Spike Jones before there was Spike Jones. 1935.  [At the former Cleveland Heights pothole (now repaved) vortex: North Park at North Woodland.]

Two klezmer tunes, plus interesting old jazz, in a 30-minute drive from the West Side. On regular radio.  Amazing.
2 of 2 posts for 9/29/10.
Yiddishe Cup plays tonight (Wed. Sept. 29) 7 p.m., Fairmount Temple, and tomorrow (Thurs. Sept. 30) 7:15 p.m., Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 29, 2010   2 Comments



Pittsburgh is where terrific walk-on musicians play with Yiddishe Cup.  We had a Duquesne University guitar teacher, Kenny Karsh, sit in at wedding.  How many jazz musicians know “Yossel, Yossel” and Chusen Kale Mazel Tov”?  He did.

At another Pittsburgh gig, the bride’s uncle sang.  He requested the key of Ab.  Nobody but a pro asks for Ab.  He sang “Unchained Melody,” a slow song, even though the bride had emailed “NO SLOW SONGS.”  But what could she do, the singer was her uncle.  He was a hit.  (Brides don’t know what they want.)  He was in a Chicago society band.

Pittsburgh’s JCC has an outdoor clock with Hebrew letters on it.  Pittsburghers rebuilt their JCC in Squirrel Hill, where it had previously been.  In Cleveland, no Jewish institution would rebuild in the same place.  Twenty-five years and out.  That’s the rule in Cleveland.  Move it.

Pittsburgh JCC

Pittsburgh JCC

When the Cleveland Heights JCC moved to Beachwood in 1985, my dad, Toby, bought a plaque for the new cloakroom. The plaque, which was no bigger than a business envelope, cost several thousand dollars.

Nobody noticed the plaque.

Several years later, the Beachwood JCC expanded, and Toby’s cloakroom was in the heart of the action, right next to the new auditorium.

My dad could always pick property.

Except in New Mexico.  That was out of Toby’s wheelhouse.  Toby foundered whenever he left Ohio. He bought a piece of land near Albuquerque that went nowhere.

Lot for sale.  Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Lot for sale. Rio Rancho, New Mexico

He also did a deal on a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Fla., and lost money because he wouldn’t — or didn’t know how to — play ball with the crooked city administrators.

A relative, Lefty, sold my father the New Mexico land in 1965.  Lefty was a Jew with a tattoo.  Lefty lost a lot of money for a lot of people.

Toby didn’t hold the deal against Lefty.  The land is still there. It’s not going anywhere.

I saw Lefty at gigs over the years.  He didn’t go by Lefty any more.  He got into basement waterproofing business and made a lot of money.

Forget the Land of Enchantment . . .

Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh is Yiddishe Cup’s San Francisco — hilly, terrific neighborhoods, great museums and a lot of culture.  “I Left My Heart in Pittsburgh.”  Write it.



Something important happens at weddings, unlike at bar mitzvah parties, where you’re just attending a family reunion. Pass the family reunion T-shirts.

The ultimate low-stress gig: a 50th wedding anniversary party.  Play whatever you want. Everybody is glad to be there, period.

For weddings, the bandleader sometimes gets mounds of emails and communiqués beforehand.  The bride doesn’t want the band to play anything slow, nothing from Broadway, and she wants to hear her Bollywood MP3s at break.  Also, don’t announce the newlyweds’ names, but if you must, say “Jen and Zach.”

“I’m NOT taking his last name!!” the bride emails.

Not every bride is hands-on, though.  Some say, “We know Yiddishe Cup has done this many, many times.  You know what works.  We trust you.”  These are the best brides.

Here’s what works: skipping the Bollywood music, strolling table-to-table, varying the musical styles and inviting guests to sit in with the band.  Toasts work too — in chunks.  No more than three toasts in a row.

And having the wedding in Pittsburgh.  Preferably at the downtown Westin.  The staff there feeds Yiddishe Cup before the guests.  Maybe because we’re important out-of-town musicians.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29,  Fairmount Temple, and  7:15 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 15, 2010   5 Comments



Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player doesn’t like to play in direct sunlight.  He wants our contract to say “We will not play in direct sunlight.”

I ignore him.  At summer concerts, I try to set up outside.  This has cost the band one loudspeaker, damaged by heavy rain.

Yiddishe Cup has played on the Wiley Middle School lawn, University Heights, Ohio, for 16 years and has moved inside the school three times.  (Thus, there is a 19 percent chance we’ll get rained out in Cleveland on an August night.)

At private parties, clients sometimes rent backyard tents just so they can have something extra thing to worry about — whether the tent will blow down or not.  Some Jews will pay extra for another worry.

Yiddishe Cup played a tent in Dayton, Ohio, where it rained so hard, busboys poked holes in the canopy to collect rain into garbage cans.  I thought the band might get electrocuted, the floor was so damp.

At a Shaker Heights tent, the air was so hot and humid, my clarinet slid apart at the cork joints.  Biloxi, Miss., had nothing on Shaker that night.

Yiddishe Cup played poolside in a Shaker backyard.  We were like Catskill mambo kings.  At the Akron (Ohio) JCC, we also played poolside, and the kids tried to splash us with belly slams and cannonballs.  That was Family Fun Day, a.k.a. Let’s Destroy Professional Musical Instruments Day.

Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player doesn’t like it when I vacillate between indoors and outdoors.  Mr. Keyboard Player, who are you going to trust, AccuWeather or your leader?

I avoid indoors if possible.  Granted, outdoor sound is mediocre, but the breeze is good and the kids get to run on the grass, and summer is so brief.

Last summer at University Heights, we moved the band’s equipment indoors at the last minute.  The storm knocked down a chain-link fence and several trees.  That was one of my better calls.


Here’s a video clip from last year’s concert.  (The stage patter at the end of the song, at 1:58 min., is amusing.)



Eli “Paperboy” Reed played at University Heights with Yiddishe Cup the night the power went out throughout Ohio, then Michigan, Ontario, and the entire Northeast.  Maybe Eli caused the Northeast Blackout of August 2003.  Eli, not FirstEnergy.  We continued the concert with a battery-powered amp.

Eli “Paperboy” Reed doesn’t need, or probably want, a middle-aged klezmer guy saying nice things about his new album, Come and Get It. (Klezmer Old Dude = Kiss of Death.)  I’ll keep it low-key. Ta-da . . .


Eli “Paperboy” Reed sings and writes original, yet classic-sounding, R&B/soul.  No, “Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed” is not a pseudonym for my son the drummer.  My son-the-drummer’s pseudonym is DJ Paradiddle.

Reed, 26, is big in Europe.  Like on The Ed Sullivan Show (the modern-day Brit equivalent) and the cover of Rolling Stone (the Brit equivalent).  Look for Come and Get It on Capitol Records and for Eli everywhere.  He was on NPR “Weekend Edition” [hear] several days ago.   He’ll probably be on late-night American TV soon.

I know a couple klezmer guys who are big, too, who played with Yiddishe Cup.  Years ago the bass player for the Klezmatics did a gig with us in Toledo.

Ipso facto, there is no such thing as “big” in klezmer.

Eli Reed doesn’t play klezmer, though.  When he performed with Yiddishe Cup, he did soul/R&B.

Reed and his band, the True Loves, have a gutsy Stax-like sound, which provides the core support to Reed’s emotive lyrics, which are rabbit punches to the solar plexus of young love.  Example: “You went from name calling to calling my name. You went from school-yard teasing to all night pleasing.”  That is clear-cut sawing in the coming-of-age forest.

Eli — they love him in España and France.  I hope Eli “Paperboy” Reed becomes huge in America, and says in passing, “Yiddishe Cup is all right,” and Yiddishe Cup gets more gigs.

When you buy Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s Come and Get It, tell them — Reed, Capitol, iTunes, et al. — Yiddishe Cup sent you.


1 of 2 posts for 8/18/10.  Please see the post below too.


See Yiddishe Cup 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 19) at Wiley Middle School, 2155 Miramar Blvd., University Hts., Ohio.  Free.  Indoors if raining.

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August 18, 2010   2 Comments


I played a crummy clarinet, blasting against the side of a barn door on a bike trip in rural Ohio.  I nearly destroyed my lip.

Last summer my friend Mark Schilling from Japan wanted to ride the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), so I couldn’t very well say: “Mark, I’m passing on GOBA.  I have a big gig coming up and need to practice.”

I had to practice for Yiddishe Cup’s twentieth anniversary concert, which was the day after the bike tour.

Some musicians don’t need to practice; they practiced in music school and can wing it as adults.  I didn’t go to music school.  I have to feel the notes in my fingers and brain almost daily before a big show.

My borrowed cheap clarinet had decayed pads, squeaky keys and cracked dirty reeds.  The mouthpiece had layers of caked lip gunk. The axe was plastic and generic.  No name.  I got it from a friend.  Ray-somebody in Sioux City, Iowa, had once repaired it; his card was in the case.

Why didn’t I have a back-up axe of my own? Was this an example of rigid thinking on my part?  I had put my professional clarinet through so much — parades and other outdoor indignities — and didn’t own a back-up.  For example, I should have had a plastic horn for the 2004 Israel Independence Day parade when we marched outside in 40 degrees. (One Yiddishe Cup musician went AWOL on that parade because he didn’t play under 50.)

On the GOBA trip, I played next to the Wood County Fairgrounds sheep barn.  If I had stood in the middle of the horse-showing ring and played — without the barn wall to bounce sound off — I would have blown my lip out even more.

I had to practice high notes, which cheap clarinets don’t do well.  You need a decent mouthpiece and a quality reed.  I bit down hard and tore my lower, inside cheek.

Nobody on the bike tour — about 2,500 riders — complained about my playing.  Midwesterners, particularly bicyclists, are very tolerant and polite.

I also practiced at a high school football field. That town, Elmore, had a bass drone coming from the Ohio Turnpike a block away.

I used cortisone cream on my cheek.

The final day of the ride, my friend and I performed at the bike rally’s talent show.  Mark and I had written a song about aching backs, bad food and smelly port-a-potties.  So had all the other contestants.  The difference: our tune had a klezmer clarinet.

We riffed on the melody “Nayer Sher,” a.k.a. the “Wedding Samba,” popularized by Xavier Cugat.  I had heard that 1950s tune on Muzak in a Cleveland grocery store.  The song had crossover appeal.

But we didn’t win.

A barbershop trio did.  They sang about tandem bike riders smelling each other’s gas.  We hadn’t thought of that.

Irwin Weinberger, a veteran GOBA cyclist and Yiddishe Cup’s singer, came in second.  Irwin inserted port-a-potty lyrics into the Kinks’ “Lola.”

Irwin hadn’t practiced all week.  Irwin is a natural.  And he’s a gas.


GOBA begins June 20 in Logan, Ohio. The GOBA encampment is half Pilot Gas rest stop, half Cabela’s.  There are six semi-haulers and many tents.  The semis carry the cyclists’ baggage.  Two of the semis are actually mobile shower trucks (which are sometimes used for natural disasters). There is close-quarters snoring on the football field, with hundreds of tents pitched within several feet of each other.  Rated: Difficult.
Yiddishe Cup plays the post-parade concert at Parade The Circle 1 p.m. this Sat. (June 12).  Wade Oval, Cleveland. Traffic tip: Ride your bike to the parade and park in the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op lot.

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June 9, 2010   3 Comments


A banda clarinetist in Sinaloa, Mexico, lent me his axe. I played horribly because of that clarinet’s craggy reed; I’ve seen better reeds in a fourth grader’s case. I played a Meron/Israeli nign (wordless melody). The Mexican listeners clapped. They could have whistled.

That was my sole south-of-the-border performance. (My family was on a hiking trip in northern Mexico, where we stumbled upon a horse auction with oompah banda.)

A Cleveland woman announced her Central American wedding — a Jewish ceremony in San Salvador.  I told the bride’s mother to hire Yiddishe Cup.  “I’m sure the groom’s family can afford it,” I said, “or they wouldn’t still be down there.”  The mom agreed to the “afford it” part, but not the band.  The mom burned a CD of horas from my wife’s collection and took that.

Yiddishe Cup plays Latin music fairly well. We have cornered the Latin Jewish doctor market in Cleveland — a market that fits comfortably into the backseat of a Camry.  We did a gig for a Mexican Jewish doctor who headed the Cleveland Clinic evil eye center (Cole Eye Institute).  That was one salsa-dik party.  Latin Jews party second only to Russian Jews.

We played a Cleveland Ecuadorian wedding where I explained the chair-lifting tradition to the groom’s gentile parents.  I said in Spanish: “You will see people seated in chairs in the wind.”


In Dallas, when Yiddishe Cup musicians visited the grassy knoll,  I stopped at the neighborhood taco shop to update myself on Mexican drinks.

The taco shop had orange, carrot, horchata, mango, guava and Sidral apple drinks.  They also had bottled Mexican Coke. The clerk explained Mexican Coke is sweeter than American Coca-Cola.

Yiddishe Cup’s ultimate hip-spanic thrill was an outdoor concert in El Paso, Texas, where we played “La Bamba” for 2,500 predominately Mexican-American listeners.  For Jewish flavor we added Hebrew lyrics from Psalm 133 (“Hine Ma Tov” / Behold how good ).  We borrowed that idea from a Kansas City band, Guns ‘n’ Charoses.

From the bandstand, we could see the Rio Grande.   We played “Meshugeneh Mambo.”  We said gracias a lot.

So close to Latin America.

Cinco de Mayo.  Hoy. (Pronounced “oy.”)
1 of 2 posts for 5/5/10. See the next post too, please.

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May 5, 2010   1 Comment


Yiddishe Cup’s biggest fan is Lea Grossman.

She got us a gig at The Ark, the premier acoustic music club in the Midwest.  She kugel-ed The Ark’s program director.  She delivered a noodle kugel to his office in Ann Arbor, Mich.  He liked it and he hired us.  (Hopefully our music had something to do with the booking too.)

I had been avoiding Ann Arbor.  I had attended college there during the hippie era and hadn’t learned much.  There had been a quasi-ban on book learning.  The foreign language requirement had been oppressive, according to protestors, and the Psych teaching assistants led T-Groups and gave everyone A’s.  Until I signed up. Then it went to pass/fail.

When my kids started looking at colleges, I told them Michigan was a swamp.  Too big, too impersonal.

I even rooted for Ohio State over Michigan.  I harbored some serious animosity toward the Blue. I told Michigan to stop sending me alumni mail.  But for $75 I hedged and sent a donation every year.  You never knew.

Thanks to Yiddishe Cup super-fan Lea Grossman, I wound up back at Michigan big-time.  Lea is 60-something but gets around like a coed, and she promoted our band to everybody and helped put signs on every phone pole.  The woman can dance, party and cook.  She knows every Jewish dance, and has sung “Tumbalalaika” on stage with Yiddishe Cup at The Ark.

Lea lived near North Campus in a university-affiliated retirement community.  It was like a dorm for seniors — real seniors.  North Campus — the last time I had been there — had been a music school, a smattering of grad student housing, and one undergraduate dorm.  It had been the end of the earth.  You had to take a bus to get there.  (Still do.)  The dorm was called Bursley, as in “brrr, it’s cold.”

For Yiddishe Cup’s first Ark appearance, I picked January.  Not too many rational Clevelanders scheduled weddings in January, so we had an opening.

Ann Arbor’s weather was just like Cleveland’s.  Bad.  And we got a huge crowd at the club.  That was weird.  The difference between Cleveland and Ann Arbor was Michigan had a puffy coat brigade. The worse the weather, the more the puffy coaters came out.  It was almost an Upper Midwest can-do chic — like something from the Progressive Era — a bunch of irregular Jews in irregular puffy coats.

On our first Ark gig, my youngest son stayed in the North Campus dorm, Bursley.  He was in eleventh grade.  (He also played drums on the gig.)

He liked the school and wound up at Michigan.

So I returned to the swamp– to see my son, and play gigs.  (My other kids went to small liberal arts colleges.)

I couldn’t get the Michigan Daily to write up Yiddishe Cup.  Ever.  I tried. The reporters wouldn’t return calls.  Maybe they weren’t too crazy about talking to a middle-aged klezmer guy.

When I had been a Daily reporter, I had enjoyed the John Lennon and Miles Davis assignments but not the local-angle profiles, like when I wrote up the Discount Records clerk who played sax.  (That sax player, Steve Mackay, was good, and cut some records with the Stooges later.)

Lea didn’t know who to kugel at the Daily; the Daily reporters were always rotating in and out.  They missed a good dish. 

Lea moved to New Jersey a year ago.

“To Kugel,” this post,  first appeared in the Washtenaw (Ann Arbor, Mich.) Jewish News, Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010.
Check out the new video clip “Driving Mr. Klezmer,” live from The Challah Fame Cafe. The Klezmer Guy blog exits the loch (your computer).  Klezmer Guy walks and talks.  Rated scary.
Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 23.   Guests include Hawaiian guitarist Gerald Ross, comedian Seymour Posner, and members of the soul/klez band Groove Spoon.

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January 6, 2010   3 Comments


I liked KlezKamp, the klezmer convention, because it wasn’t just Mahjong Jews.  (Mahjong Jews don’t camp and, for that matter, can’t imagine camping.)

KlezKamp, in its first years, was in a ratty old Catskills hotel.  Going there was like camping indoors. Many bathrooms had plungers.  Heat was erratic.  The halls smelled of disinfectant.

Most of the male campers looked like they had just crawled out of sleeping bags.  They looked like Abbie Hoffman or Eugene Levy.  No other choices.  These guys were professors, shrinks, music students and Jewish hippie farmers from New England.

Four-hundred twenty-five people, total — half of whom were musicians.  Twenty clarinet players in one room.  We had to audition.  Sid Beckerman, musician and clarinet arbiter, had rachmones (pity) on us.  Everybody sounded “nice” to Sid.  I wound up in mid-level.

I took clarinet classes, and also heard a professor named Brown, from Brown, talk about Brown’s, the resort.  I heard Leon Schwartz, a legendary violinist, reminisce about gypsies.  He said the gypsies in his Bukovina village had had it worse than the Jews.  “The Jews had the stores,” he said.

I went to KlezKamp for more than a decade.

At first I couldn’t get my wife, Alice, to go.  We had young kids.

One year I took the two oldest kids and went without her.  I spent a lot of time in the game room and swimming pool that year.  That chlorine vat/pool was slightly bigger than a half dollar.  You had to coat yourself with skin conditioner or get a rash.  Thankfully, several lesbian musicians helped me with the babysitting.

The kids and I went to New York City afterward.  My daughter,
then 5, made me carry her everywhere.  We weren’t going too far.  We went to Popeye’s on Times Square for dinner.

When we returned home to Cleveland, my wife said at the doorway, “The kids look anemic!”

But we had beans and rice and lemonade at Popeye’s, Alice.  (The kids hadn’t been too crazy about the borscht and herring at KlezKamp.)

Alice never trusted me with food vis-a -vis the kids.

So the following year she came with us.  All five of us.  Alice was a folk dancer and exercise nut; however, Jews at klezmer conventions think exercise is something in an etude book.  Alice found an indoor tennis court which was so dusty the balls turned black after one set.  It was like playing in a parking garage.  We went skiing on Christmas.  I thought the slopes would be empty.  No, a lot of Asians and Jews from New York City were there.

We sneaked over to The Pines resort for ice skating.  That place was a staging area for the Mahjong Jew takeover of the world.  We had a good time.  There were interesting trivia games in the lobby.   I’ve got nothing against middle-class Jews.  I am one 51 weeks out of the year.

My family kept going back to KlezKamp.  Every Christmas.  Ikh khulem fun a vaysn nitl.  (I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.)  And every year Alice would complain: “I can’t believe we’re going to KlezKamp again!”

Finally, after 12 years, the brainwashing was complete; the kids knew more Yiddish than just oy vey (woe is me) and farklempt (choked up); and Alice could have, by then, taught the dance classes.  And I had met all the old klez guys: Max Epstein, Felix Fibich, Danny Rubenstein, Velvel “Billy” Pasternak . . .

Attention must be paid.  Mas . . . Paul Pincus, Leon Schwartz, Ray Musiker, Ben Bazyler, Sid Beckerman, German “That’s Herman in Russian” Goldenshteyn, Howie Leess, Elaine Hoffman Watts.

The majority are now dead.

I had paid my dues — family-rate.

And I was through auditioning.

KlezKamp’s 25th encampment is next week.  Did you know Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, was at the first KlezKamp, 1985?  Less than 100 people were there.  They planned to take over the (klezmer) world, and they did.

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December 16, 2009   7 Comments


Great Yiddishe Cup non-gigs:

The Shrine to American Music, Vermillion, North Dakota
New York Mills (Minn.) Regional Cultural Center
Southern Cross International Music Festival, Brisbane, Australia
Austin (Tex.) JCC, Israel Independence Day celebration
Klezmer Festival, Fuerth, Germany
Jewish Music Festival, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

All of them were close calls.

Maybe we came in second.

Second stinks.  For example, when 30 clarinetists audition for the Kansas City Symphony, 29 clarinetists get to add “finalist” to their resumes.

Australia . . . That would have looked good in our obits.

Nobody — anywhere — does what Yiddishe Cup does: play wacky klezmer comedy.

We get around.  We’ve  been to Texas three times, Florida four times, Missouri nine times.

We’ve played abroad twice. The first time was New York City. That’s a foreign country.  The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.  The Jews in New York understood our Catskills parodies better than we did.

The second time abroad . . . Windsor, Canada.   (Quiz:  What foreign country would you reach first if you drove due south from Detroit?  The answer: Canada.  Windsor is south of Detroit.)

For our Australian non-gig, I dealt with a contemporary composer/professor, Ralph.  His children knew most of Yiddishe Cup’s funny lyrics.

I wondered if Yiddishe Cup’s synthesizer would work with the electrical system in Australia.  And should I purchase the airplane tickets, or have Ralph do it?  He might route us through Greenland.  The bigger question:  Would Ralph’s university have the money to bring us over?

Ralph didn’t have the money.

Chanukah in Jackson Hole, WY. That was the subject line of an email I recently got. I almost spammed it.

In the email’s text, a Wyoming rabbi asked Yiddishe Cup about doing a three-day Chanukah bash at three ski hotels.  I immediately called the rabbi, gave him a fair price, and he didn’t hang up.  In fact, he was enthusiastic.

I told the Yiddishe Cup musicians the Wyoming gig was 49 percent likely.

Our singer said, “Forty-nine percent?  That means you think it’s not going to happen.”


Forty-nine percent is the street corner where optimism meets realism.

We didn’t get the gig. The rabbi hired another band, he wrote me.  I wonder who.

I just Googled the Wyoming event . . .

. . . The Ruby Harris band.  I’ve vaguely heard of Ruby Harris.  I think Ruby is a singer from San Francisco.

I understand. A California band is cheaper to fly to Wyoming than a Cleveland band.

News flash: Ruby is a guy — a violinist from the Midwest!  I went to his Web site.  Chicago.  That’s around the block from Cleveland!  Why him and not us?  He plays klez and blues.  So do we!  “Yiddishe Blues” is a tune on our latest album.

Check out the black diamond ski trails, Ruby.

Break a leg.

. . . Deep breath. Rewrite:

Happy Chanukah.
1 of 2 posts for 12/9/09.  Please see the post below too.

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December 9, 2009   4 Comments


Downtown Detroit has a lot of detour signs.  Just when you think you’re heading back to Ohio, you’re not.  You’re on your way to Detroit Metro airport and points west.

Don’t play for peanuts in Detroit.  You’ll feel like a fool if you’re lost and underpaid at two in the morning.

In Yiddishe Cup’s van, each musician has an assigned role. Our drummer is in charge of windshield fluid levels.  He’s big on that.  Our dance leader supplies the bottled water. Our keyboard player loads the van; he knows the secret order of the gear.  We like to watch.

Van life smells.  It reeks of six guys in a metal container, topped with a cherry-scented spray, courtesy of the van rental company.

One Yiddishe Cup musician plays his iPod so loudly there is aural seepage.  Not everybody is into Bob Dylan’s basement tapes.  The icing: scents from Krispy Kremes and Cinnabuns.  Our driver eats that stuff like he’s on death row.

The bandleader’s job is to monitor the musicians’ word output.  Everyone has a certain quota of words for the day, and after he has used that, he should shut up and read, according to the van guard.

Luckily, nobody in Yiddishe Cup is a motor mouth.  Really, nobody wants to hear about your stock portfolio, your computer, your illness, your day-job boss, for too long.  Only exceed your word quota for safety reasons, like if the driver might fall asleep from drowsiness.

That, unfortunately, is a possibility. You know how boring it is to drive I-71 to Columbus, or the Ohio Turnpike to Detroit?

Little known fact: you can get lox and bagel at milepost 100 on the Ohio Turnpike.


Yiddishe Cup’s worst milepost ever: 213, on I-71 near Medina, Ohio.  We had a flat tire and waited for a tow truck at 3 a.m.  Our drummer kept repeating, “Here comes a truck with lights on top.”

I said, “Most trucks have lights.”

The tow truck was a heavy-duty model — especially equipped for jacking up vans — and it arrived very late.

I had a lot of time to replay our night’s gig, a Columbus bat mitzvah.  After the hora, the mom had said, “It wasn’t a freylekhs!”  [Hora.] And I had said, “It wasn’t Latin music!”  Apparently, she had wanted to be lifted in a chair, and I had cut the music before.  I wasn’t clairvoyant.

Bat mitzvah moms don’t always goes up on chairs.  Maybe half the time.

1 of 2 posts for 11/25/09

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November 25, 2009   5 Comments



Wolf Krakowski, a singer from Massachusetts, used to skewer Jewish musicians on the Internet for performing in Germany.  One of Wolf’s most memorable lines was “Nobody looks good in brown lipstick.”  (Meaning, don’t kiss German tush.)

One American klezmer — who played in Germany a couple times — thought Wolf was stiff-necked. The musician wrote back to Wolf: “I’m a vegetarian and don’t wear leather.  I am not evil. I don’t eat
meat . . .”

No sale.  Wolf wrote, “Heaven forfend that any unpleasantness intrude upon your pursuit of the deutschmarks.”

Wolf dropped off the Jewish-Music Web forum shortly after that.  Nobody took his place.  Impossible.

Few, if any, American klezmers are as hard-line on Germany as Wolf.  (Wolf was born in a Displaced Persons camp and has valid reasons for his position.)

The postwar generation in Germany is an appreciative, knowledgeable audience, according to many American klezmers. Just about every German town has a klezmer band.  Nearly every American band wants to play there.

Yiddishe Cup would go to Germany.

Nobody has asked.

Got sort of asked.  A festival in Fuerth, Germany, wrote me several emails about how they were looking forward to Yiddishe Cup’s appearance at the Fuerth Klezmer Festival. Then the committee switched leaders, or something, and I didn’t hear from the organizers for a long time.  I emailed.  Nothing.  I phoned.  I got a man on the line and said, “Do . . .  you . . . speak . . . English?”

He said, “I’ll give it a try.”  Easy-breezy, with a British-tinged German accent.  His only stilted  line was his last one: “We will not be needing you.”  I heard that as “Ve vill not be needing you, Mr. Yiddishe Cup.”  Sounded like Kissinger or Colonel Klink.   Kissinger.  Kissinger was born in Fuerth.

Germany could use some Mickey Katz parodies.



I want to introduce Yiddishe Cup in a foreign language.  “Nuestro keyboardist es Alan Douglass …”  That would be in Buenos Aires, say.

Der Rhythmus der Tradition.  Der Beat der jungen Generation.  Aus der Reihe KulturSpiegel.

That German is real.  Yiddishe Cup is on a just-released Sony Germany compilation CD, Balkan Basics World Tour II.

[The rhythm of tradition.  The beat of the young generation.  From the Culture Mirror series.]

Yiddishe Cup doesn’t generally play Balkan music.  No problem, the other bands on the CD do.  Taraf de Haidouks, Boban Markovic, Balkan Beat Box.

Yiddishe Cup’s contribution is Mehkuteneste Mayne (My Dear In-law) — straight-ahead klez.  We’re right after Tsu Der Kretshme (To the Tavern) by Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars.

London, a founder of the Klezmatics, is one of the top players in world music — and one of the coolest.   He wears a Jim Brown yarmulke; shades; a billowy, flowery shirt; and yet somehow doesn’t look like a 51-year-old Jewish guy at a Woodstock party.

I’ve seen London a few times at KlezKamp. He’s ingenious, making new music with pros and amateurs alike.  He organizes multi-generational bands: teenagers pound drums, senior citizens skvitch (screech) on violins, and assorted pros hold it all together.  London directs this KlezKamp ensemble with his hairy, Cro-Klezmer Man mien.  That’s side one of London.

Side two is Frank London as New York Jewish intellectual.  In a Pittsburgh newspaper, he used semiotic and qua to discuss an upcoming Klezmatics concert.

That wasn’t just postmodern.  That was Post-Gazette.

London calling . . .

Yiddishe Cup, and others, is on Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH.

Yesterday Yiddishe Cup was an Ohio klezmer band.  Today Yiddishe Cup is an Ohio klezmer band, but add irresistibly au courant.  Other tunes on the Balkan Basics project are “Sex Bomb,” “Rod Serling’s Trip to Bulgaria” and “Are You Gypsified?”  (By Globeal.Kryner, Mastika, and Taraf de Haiduks, respectively.)

Yiddishe Cup wants this Balkan hubbub to last longer than 10 seconds.  The Challah Fame in Cleveland is hastily organizing a one-day symposium, “Jewish Cultural Ventriloquism,” featuring these four lecturers:

Frank London, trumpet
“The Visceral, Semiotic Link Between Klezmer Music and Yiddish”

Bert Stratton, clarinet
“Supple, Labile Ethnicity: Kiss Me, I’m Balkan (ne Klezmer, ne Jewish)”

Walter Zev Feldman, tsimbl
“Repurposing the Bagel Shmeer: Klezmer as JIF (Jewish Instrumental Folk Music)”

Steven Greenman, violin
“How About Those Steelers?”
Hear clips from the CD Balkan Basics World Tour II, direct from the Treffpunkt Musikshop.

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November 4, 2009   7 Comments


My dad, Toby, was a big fan of California. He and every other Ohioan in the 1960s.

His cosmetics company, which he started in the basement, was Ovation of California.  It was a franchise.  The franchisor, based in California, was simply “Ovation.”  Toby added the “of California.”  Toby sold moisturizers, shampoos, eyebrow pencils, lipsticks and bases.

Bases were war paint for women.  My mother, who wore the stuff on sales pitches, looked like a Claymation figure.  My parents gave presentations at Cleveland hotels, trying to recruit women to do home sales parties.  Better yet, become sub-franchisees.  My parents had a carousel-tray slide show with an LP sound track that synched to the slides.  Beep.

Ovation went bust. Avon Products was the powerhouse back then.

Californian dreamin’ . . . it’s part of  the Midwestern mentality.  My family took the station wagon trip to California in the sixties.  Our “station wagon” was a 1961 Pontiac Catalina sedan with no A/C.  Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red (My Love)” was on the radio.

We wound up in San Francisco — the home of Daniel Ducoff, Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader.  I didn’t even know that!

Daniel’s father was a rabbi in Frisco. While I was growing up in standard-issue Ohio, Li’l Danny was being raised in the Haight, or more exactly, three miles from it.  To this day, Daniel wears a T-shirt that says “What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?”  Daniel is Cali Man.  He has many different sun glasses.

Daniel — when he’s out in California for a high school reunion or something — will phone me: “They’d love Yiddishe Cup’s bizarre humor here!  Why aren’t we playing here?”

Daniel played several tracks from Yiddishe Cup’s Meshugeneh Mambo CD for Grateful Dead guys.  Not exactly Grateful Dead musicians.  It was for Mickey Hart’s ex-wife and the Dead’s ex-manager.  They danced to “K’nock Around the Clock.”  Nothing came of it.

Daniel does not have the Midwesterner’s sense of limited possibilities.

Get real, Daniel.  Get us a gig in Kentucky.  Get us a gig in Columbus, Ohio.
1 of 2 posts for 8/26/09.  Please see post below too.
Yiddishe Cup concert:  7:45 p.m. Sun., Sept. 6 at Orange Village (Ohio) gazebo.
Watch a new YouTube video of Yiddishe Cup singing the Barry Sisters’  “Zug es mir nokhamol.”  Good harmonies.

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August 26, 2009   3 Comments


On our thirtieth wedding anniversary trip, my wife, Alice, and I were in a small town, Creel, Chihuahua, northern Mexico, along  with a lot of federal cops.  Some of them were crowded around a store window that had bullet holes in it.  This was déjà vu for me; I used to rent to the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Center, which always had its share of bullet holes, plus red food coloring, red Jell-O and toy baby doll arms piled in the doorway.  I never billed the government for cleaning up.

The Mexican federales wore all black.  Some had masks, so the drug cartel boys wouldn’t recognize them.  Other than that, Creel was like Put-in-Bay, Ohio: a resort town with tchatche shops everywhere. And there was a coffeehouse, featuring an open mic night, in the Best Western.

I often pack a harmonica when I camp— and  we had just spent a few days in the Copper Canyon mountains — so I did a blues harmonica ditty at the open mic.  An American, Diddle, backed me on guitar.

After this cross-cultural interlude, my wife and I walked past the store with the bullet holes again.  We heard a “rat-a-tat-tat.”  No, a “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.”  We ducked and ran like Groucho Marxes. We wound up on the floor in a nearby hotel lobby, where a clerk jabbered about how she had never been so frightened in her whole life.

Me too.

And I had just paid thousands of dollars to get shot at.  At least in Israel it would have made some sense — solidarity with my people and all that.

How was your trip, Bert?

Nice except for getting shot at.

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June 12, 2009   2 Comments


The Red Roof Inn is the band’s official hotel.

The worst one is in Southfield, Mich.  The smoke detector was ripped out and a guy was already in the room.  A greeter?  Joe Louis?

The wake-up call the next morning never happened.  The cops raided a nearby suite, so we really didn’t need the wake-up.

The band’s favorite restaurant is Bob Evans. The man himself, Bob Evans, died a couple years ago. I had my picture taken with him in Rio Grande, Ohio.  (Also, had my pic taken with actor/singer Theodore Bikel at KlezKanada. That didn’t kill Bikel.)  At Bob Evans, order the potato-crusted flounder, coleslaw and biscuits.

The Waffle House — that was a mechaya (pleasure) for a while-a.   I told Steve Ostrow, Yiddishe Cup’s vegetarian trombone player, the brown strips in his omelet were mushrooms. (They looked like mushrooms.)  Turned out to be steak.  We haven’t been back to Awful House. I miss the home fries with onions.

Here’s another band favorite: The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  A woman—all decked out in Northwestern purple — said she would put us on the school’s Web site (Rabbinic Management Program page) if we did an original song while wearing purple shirts.  She saw us at a gig in Florida and is married to the dean emeritus of Kellogg, so maybe . . .

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June 10, 2009   1 Comment


A couple of my musicians freaked out when a critic called Yiddishe Cup’s first CD “schizophrenic.”  (Or was it the second, third, or fourth CD?)  The reviewer, who said a ton of nice stuff, said we were schizophrenic because we attempted so many different styles.

That’s all the band members could think about: we’re schizos.

You need the skin of a rhino to be a performer.

I mean, I’ve had two death threats in the real estate biz.  That bothered me. “I’ve got a gun” stuff.  One guy was pissed because I was a Jewboy born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  (He didn’t say “mouth.”)  The other guy was just pissed — pissed at everybody.  Tenants hate landlords.  We know that.  You need the skin of a rhino.

Everybody has an opinion. Particularly in the arts.   If you don’t have one, here are a couple:

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

A blues band: “No soul.”

A klezmer band: “Dorks in vests.”

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June 8, 2009   1 Comment