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 — KlezFiction


I’m a German klezmer musician. Everyone thinks that fascinating. Everyone has questions for me.

Here are the answers:

I didn’t know any Jews. I just liked the music. My aunt told me, “Why do you play that silly music? You’re German!” I don’t think klezmer is silly music! I’ve studied Yiddish and I’ve been to klezmer conferences, and I have Jewish friends now.

Every year I play memorial programs, and each time at the Kristallnacht commemoration in my town there is always at least one Jewish tourist who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?” And I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!” Sometimes I tell him my grandfather is Romanian. It’s not true; I am German, but if a Jewish person insists I’m Jewish, who am I to disappoint him?

I am a klezmer musician, or a German klezmer musician. Your choice. I never wanted to be a Jew, and I never wanted to be not a Jew. Somebody once said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.” So maybe I am Jewish.

An American once called me a “poseur.” I had to look that word up. He claimed to be a klezmer musician from Cleveland, Ohio. He told me I shouldn’t play klezmer music because I’m not Jewish. He was emphatic about that. The middle of the United States is too red, I think.

Do I feel guilty about the Holocaust? Why should I? I don’t follow the tradition of my great-grandparents. If you think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then you know damn little about music.

[fake profile]

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May 3, 2023   1 Comment


I design vinyl records, mostly klezmer albums. I do everything, even the liner notes. Here are examples of bad liner notes — not by me. Just to show you what bad is:

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

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

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

Work with me. And when you do, adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Don’t name your tunes. I’ll name them. The first three tunes will be “Kick My Klezmer,” “Hymietown Races Here We Come” and “Romanian Shock #1.”

2. Don’t title your album. I will. The title will be either Intravenous Klezmer or 13 Jewish Hummingbirds, depending on my mood.

3. Use a pseudonym for one of the musicians in your band. This will make your recording more mysterious. Choose between M. Rogue Gemini, Danny Kay and Wayne “Der Nister” Carter.

4. To bulk up the bio note, you need to visit your sister — or somebody — in Brooklyn. We’ll make you a genuine New Yorker.

5. For the cover, we always use red. No silver, black or gray. We aren’t a car dealer.

Some of our clients have been somewhat satisfied with our results.


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January 3, 2023   No Comments


Go to Corky & Lenny’s in Cleveland and listen to a klezmer history lecture by Bert Stratton, while eating. While Bert eats. We will celebrate the Cleveland klezmer sound.

March 10 “The Klezmer Dinner & Lecture.”

Bert will eat Don Hermann’s Pickles, challah from the Park Synagogue preschool, precision matzo balls from Cleveland Punch & Die Co., smokin’ salmon by Pot Sauce Williams, and for dessert, vintage Star of David lollipops, salvaged from the defunct Chocolate Emporium. Make reservations now for this fictional event.

And here are some future Klezmer Dinner Project events:

April 16 “Klezmer Goy.” Alan Douglass, a founding member of the Kleveland Klezmorim and Yiddishe Cup, talks about life as a klezmer goy. He’ll recite the bruchas over the wine and bread to show he knows some Hebrew.

June 30 “The Kid from Klezveland.” Greg Selker, founder of the Kleveland Klezmorim, speaks about the early days of Kleve Klez. He’ll show video footage from Booksellers, Pavilion Mall, Beachwood, Ohio, 1985. Booksellers was probably the first suburban-mall bookstore in America with a café.

July 9 “Back Pocket.” Jack Stratton, a funk and klezmer drummer, demonstrates the Jewish rhythm method. He gets down with the knish (a k a the Jewish pie, a k a the pocket).

Aug. 30 “The Happy Bagel.” Daniel Ducoff, Yiddishe Cup’s former dance leader, talks about happy times and how to make money being happy at bar mitzvah parties and weddings. Ducoff demonstrates his latest dance, the Happy Bagel.

Sept. 16 “The Crazy Wedding Mom.”. The late Barbara Shlensky, party-planner extraordinaire, talks about Momzilla. What if Mom jumps on the bandstand and screams, “Stop right now! The tent floor is caving!” And what if Mom’s “45-minute” cocktail hour runs two hours, and the overly lubed wedding guests break wine glasses and drip blood all over the dance floor? Also, has there ever been a $100,000 bar mitzvah party in Cleveland? Stay tuned.

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November 17, 2021   5 Comments


I run a bar mitzvah party think tank. I supply clients — mostly DJs — with explosives, lyrics and games. Some of my games are free, just to build web traffic. For instance, take my humiliation game; the bar mitzvah boy stands on the dance floor surrounded by searing sterno cans. We throw napkins at him.

My top-selling games are Twine Fun, Narcissism Express, Beach Sand Saturation, Toxic Candy, Enjambment and Trunk-like Bodies. I have Jewish-themed stuff, too. The kids wear bottle caps on their heads, and the last kid to lose his “yarmulke,” wins. Lots of body contact.

My best-selling game is Trash Floating in the Punch. We throw chicken bones, children’s books from the centerpieces, and lipstick-smeared plastic cups into the punch bowl. Kids reach in and fish for prizes. It’s ecological.

I strained my back at a gig. Bingo, a new game — the Grandpa Shuffle. Kids walk around like oldsters and mutter creative Yiddish curses. It’s shameful and stunning to see teenagers limp and spew “Zol er krenken un gedenken.” (Let him suffer and remember.)

I carry the classics, too: laughing gas, toilet slime kits, photo booths, giant inflatables and partisans.

Call me or my guy Irwin:

Irwin Weinberger

Super-salesman Irwin Weinberger with Toilet Slime

[fake profile]

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June 30, 2021   2 Comments


An interview I did with a guy looking to join Yiddishe Cup :

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

Musician: I shoot the deer.

Me: A concertgoer yells, “Stop talking and start playing!” What do you do?

Musician: I shoot him.

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

Musician: Yes, and candy apples, too, on Simchat Torah.

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

Musician: I tore up a $100 bill centerstage at the Beachland.

Me: What if nobody shows up at the gig?

Musician: Happens all the time.

Yidd Cup / Funk A Deli live streams this Friday, around 7 p.m. ET, from Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, for Simchat Torah. The sanctuary will be empty. Be there!  The stream is here.

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October 7, 2020   3 Comments


I attended a Zoom klez conference last week out of London, of all places. The presentations were at odd times, Cleveland-zone, so I missed a lot. I’ve put together an Eastern Time Zoom conference. It’s happening right now. Check it out . . .

How do I stop this thing?  Steven Greenman
Greenman asks, “Should a klezmer song end with a squirt or a pop? Or should the bandleader just scream, ‘It was all a mistake!'”

Praised be klezmer!  Don Friedman
Rev. Friedman is the spiritual leader of the Church-a-gogue, Twinsburg, Ohio. Friedman invented the Jewish freewill offering. It isn’t free. Friedman delivers his powerful “Klezmer!” sermon today.

Old shul  Alice Stratton
Stratton rewinds to when freylekhs tempos were T-120. She shows us her latest interpretive dance, “BlintzUh.” This mixed-genre dance involves cream cheese and two clarinets.

The 2020 Klezmer Manifesto  Michael Winograd
Wino from Wilno delivers the first klez manifesto since Alicia Svigals wailed “Against Nostalgia” at the 1996 Wesleyan University Klezmer Conference.

Here are some of Winograd’s key points:

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

Music that repels Alan Douglass
Douglass discusses the bar mitzvah repertoire of the late 20th century. Followed by a limbo contest.

Aqua-klezmer Irwin Weinberger
Mystical, glorious and powerful mayim (water). Heartbreaking too. Bring a bathing suit and a doctor’s permission slip. There will be a baby pool and high board.

Breakout rooms:
Pretzel logic  Eric Broder
Rold Gold, Dan Dee, Snyder’s of Berlin, or Snyder’s of Hanover?

Be normal now  Nancy 3. Hoffman
Watch some movies, eat some burgers, go to bars, and don’t change your middle name from Arlene to 3.

Bark mitzvah  Mark Freiman
What’s your take on bark mitzvahs? (Bar mitzvahs for dogs.) Are they for real? What’s Jewish about your hunt?

Audiophilia  Moon Stevens
Is your sound system good enough for klezmer? If you were to sit in Moon Stevens’ L.A. living room, on his couch, it would be like you’re in the front row at Shelly’s Manne-Hole. The speakers are mounted on maple. What you got?

Klezmer abroad  Hans Filber
In his eBook memoir, clarinetist Hans Filber wrote: “My aunt once told me — she was drunk — ‘Why do you play that silly music? You’re German.’ But other than, nobody thinks it’s odd.” Discuss.

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August 5, 2020   3 Comments


KlezKanada is going on right now. Come on, America, let’s compete against the Canadians. Let’s do a full-blown Midwest klez conference. Not in Chicago, thank you, and not in some bubble town like Madison, Wisc., or Ann Arbor, Mich.

KlezKleveland. Where exactly? My house.

Accommodations: tent camping on my front lawn. There will be shower trucks and port-a-potties in the driveway. Don Johns — only the best.

Gentiles welcome, of course.

Do I need to play an instrument to attend?


Do I need to know Yiddish?

Just chutzpah and putz.




Spinning to the music of KnishKnash, a NYC band.

Teen activities?

Yes. Teens will put on a play about scrap and Midwest Jews, based on Leonard Tanenbaum’s memoir, Junk is not a Four-Letter Word.

KlezKleveland ends with a fireworks display over Shaker Lakes. Look for a KlezKleveland flyer in your mailbox. Look for the next eight years.

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August 21, 2019   4 Comments


Yiddishe Cup did a month tour in June ’13. We had a touring bus, and a ton of guys, like a lighting guy, sound guy and tour manager. You know, the usual. We never had to set up anything. We had a masseuse. We had hot meals.

We had screaming fans. It wasn’t about Yiddishe Cup. We weren’t even “Yiddishe Cup.” We were “Cup,” which happened to be a very competent band of predominantly old Jews.

I jogged a lot to keep my sanity. The screaming teenage fans could drive you nuts. We sold 10 Yiddishe Cup CDs, total. Not our crowd, I’ll admit. But we were the “support” band, and we ably supported the star, who sold $30,000 in merch a night. (The star wants to remain anonymous.) The idea of a pop icon touring with a bunch of old Jews was novel, and it worked. But I wouldn’t do it again.

phoenix sweatin'

Jogging on an off-day in Oklahoma City


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March 1, 2017   8 Comments


Don Friedman is Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer.

What’s the best part of retirement, Don?

Not schlepping my drums to gigs.

You were with Yiddishe Cup about 20 years. What was the worst part of being in a klezmer band?


Don Friedman, 2011

Don Friedman, 2011

What were some of your highlights with the band?

Playing outdoor gigs – you know, festivals. But I didn’t like the druggie stuff at the outdoor festivals. I think the kids call it mollys – ecstasy. And bearded mountain-men dudes — I don’t like them. They got ugly with us a couple times and called us anti-Semitic names, but we just ignored them.

The band clashed internally. A little or a lot?

Not that I’m aware of you. But I do want to say I was totally gutted every time Bert belittled my hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania, on the bandstand. I finally told him to shut up about it.

What kind of music moves you the most?

Klezmer, jazz. You know, I grew up with jazz. Saw Philly Jo Jones and Trane in the 1950s. I went off to Berklee for a while. It was just one building.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Drink more at gigs. I only had a beer per gig. It was all free. I should have had two per gig.

Who are your heroes?

Buddy Rich, Stan Levey, Teddy Charles — any Jewish jazz drummer.

This interview is fiction.

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January 25, 2017   4 Comments


Blindfold test. I received no prior information. Ratings are on a 1-to-5 scale.


1. “Oy Avram” Yiddish Princess

This one reminds me of Daniel Kahn, the young Jew in Berlin. Maybe he’s not that young. Let’s call him late-30s. Middle age is a long slog. When does it start? What about 66 — is that still middle age? What’s old?

The lead singer on this is Sarah Cooper. 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: do something new every day. If I have Kashi Island Vanilla for breakfast today, I go with Kashi Autumn Wheat tomorrow. Joe’s O’s or Cheerios?  Depends.

Michael Winograd

This is Wino, Michael Winograd, on clarinet. He constructs his tunes with great care. Give him 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 Winograd? He’s big-time. His clarinet is Canadian, that much I know.

Winograd plays with time and stretches out the composition. It’s a 5.

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 Temkin. He wears his hat backwards and hangs out in Brooklyn. I know a backward hat-wearing drummer 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 here. He’s on every klezmer record. Give it a 5.

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

Heavy brass and breakneck tempos. These guys drink slivovitz by the gallon. I have one word for them: slow down. Give it a 5.

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 this? I’m seeing ghosts. I’m fainting. Give it a 3.

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

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 a rhythmically complex animal. Not only can he play, he 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. A 5.

Sokolow, piano, vocals.


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


This is Greenman, the LeBron of klezmer violin. Greenie sinks a 5-pointer.

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




10. “Rumenye”  Homesick Songs Golem








It’s Ezekiel’s Wheels. This is so meaty. What’s for lunch?  Give it a 6.

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

A version of this post first appeared here 6/26/13.

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January 18, 2017   2 Comments


I have a closet full of unsold Yiddishe Cup CDs. Maybe I should get Irwin Weinberger from Yiddishe Cup to hand-paint covers for the CDs. I’ll sell them as art. (Irwin is a painter and musico.)

art not so much(4). . . Done.

Thanks, Irwin!

I’ve already sent out some of Irwin’s art-laden CDs for review, and I’ve gotten back these blurbs:

1. Rabbi Albert Trattons: “You nailed it, Yiddishe Cup. This is better than my shalom plaque. However, the music is so-so.”

2. Treb Nottarts, Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic: “This is grand theft–art from the Jewish Museum. I’m talking New York Jewish Museum. Tremendous. Just one quibble, why so few rollicking tunes on this CD?”

3. Albie Sattront, A&R, Capitol Records: “Love the Chagall cover. Music is kind of  fun too.  Caught half of  track 1 — a personal best for me and klez.”

4. Albert Ratnotts, real estate developer: “I’m buying your band! These CDs would make excellent tiles for the kitchen floors at my downtown apartments.”

To order your art-enhanced Yiddishe Cup CD, call 1-888-KLEZART.  $49.50. Includes shipping.

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February 10, 2016   2 Comments

OF 2015

Notso Kosher Records

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

Drum roll . . . Here are the best klezmer recordings of 2015:

1. Orlando. Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars take us on a tour of Disney World. “Mickey’s Philharmonic” features London on electric toothbrush (pulse position). “Whistle While You Work” is 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 Cod. Andy 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. Steven Greenman recreates the sonic architecture of his Pittsburgh childhood bedroom, complete with Steelers pennants and Fiddler on the Roof LPs. Sweaty and no A/C.

Alan Douglass, Yiddishe Cup enforcer, 2011

4. This Can’t Be Klezmer by Yiddishe Cup. A musical jail complete with corporal punishment. Perfect for the heartbroken, horny and dead. Yiddishe Cup mixes barely adequate musicianship with a touch of humor. It doesn’t sound like klezmer, but then what did you expect with a title like This Can’t Be Klezmer?

5. Strung Out by Pete Rushefsky. Nothing on the 1 and 3; it’s all off-beats. Drives you crazy, but in a good way. There is an after-party. You have to be in New York.

6. Anti Semit by Michael Wex. Sixty LOL minutes from Wex’s KlezKanada emceeing. Can anybody top Wex’s Walter Brennan-is-a-Jew sketch? No.

7. Odorous by Shtreiml. Jason Rosenblatt spent years in the lab on this one. This smells like sulfur.  Le jazz hot — and funky — from Montreal.

Jack Stratton, about 2008

8. Without a Net. Vulfpeck’s Jack Stratton uses metal parts from surgeries gone bad — mostly hip replacements — to perform Meron drum licks. Particularly good cuts: “Bodies Thrown Back” and “Clarity.”  The rest of the album is pretty conventional.

9. In the Klezmer Aisle by Yiddish Princess. Sarah Gordon does freestyle rapping about Kashi Autumn Wheat and Island Vanilla cereals, which leads to kishke, which leads to ka-ka. Juvenile and fun.

10. Blackout. Henry Sapoznik gives us a wake-up call, smashing his banjo, then picking up a clarinet. Tons of squeaks. Sapoznik whines like a fourth-grader at the end: “I quit! I quit!”

This post first appeared 12/5/12 in slightly different form.

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December 16, 2015   9 Comments


I know a fair amount about flower arranging, photo booths, video production, and music. I’m a party planner. I once built a 24-foot Barbie doll house from flowers, candy and Elmer’s glue.

Food-wise, I  stop by Rally’s and buy fries and burgers for my parties. The music — not the food — makes the event. My clients always leave saying: “The food sucked but the band was terrific.”

Yiddishe Cup. Try them. They’re the best.

party planner bert as

Burgers and Yiddishe Cup

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 13) on the John Carroll U. quad, University Heights, Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, too. No burgers.

jews with horns 2

This is relevant. How Yiddishe Cup started. (fiction)

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August 12, 2015   1 Comment


I’m a German klezmer musician. Hold your questions. Here are the answers:

I live in Berlin. My aunt once told me — she was drunk — “Why do you play that crap? You’re German!”

I play every year Kristallnacht commemorations, where there is always at least one Jew who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?”  I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!”  Sometimes I tell the person my grandfather was Romanian,  just to move on.

I also play jazz and funk (Vulfpeck).  I have played even for Orthodox Jews in the States, but they don’t thrill too much to my jazz music.

klezgoyI play reeds — saxophone and clarinet.  I don’t try to be Jewish.  I never wanted to be Jewish or not Jewish. Somebody said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.”   I don’t know about such things.

In the Middle West, in Ohio, an old Jew called me a “poseur.”  I had to look that  up.  He was a klezmer musician.  Maybe he was a poseur.  The middle of the United States is very red, I think.  Only he could play klezmer, I think he means. If people think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then they know damn little about music.

I’m a klezmer musician.  Forget about the German part for a second.


Check out Magdalena Waligorska‘s nonfiction book Klezmer’s Afterlife, about the klezmer scene in Berlin and Cracow. Forty-three percent of this post is lifted from the book.

File this under KlezFiction and Fake Profiles.

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October 8, 2014   2 Comments


Tacky tourist attractions are popping up near the stellar Challah Fame. The latest shtick dreck is the Yiddishe Cup Experience, in the old Beef Corral at Cedar Center, South Euclid, Ohio.

shtick Dreck tour yiddishe cup experience

Sombuddy pleaz open ah vindah!

Don’t go.  Repeat, don’t go. Here’s what you’ll “miss”:

1. The first Jewish traffic light (a semaphore actually), from Kinsman Road, 1925. The semaphore has matzo, knish, and seltzer symbols instead of red, yellow and green.  The semaphore was taken down in 1926 because the Italians couldn’t tell matzo from knishes.

2. Theodore Bikel and Mickey Katz hand puppets. Who made these?  [Josh Dolgin of Canada.]

3. The “Jewish Underground Railroad Experience.”  A sandbox. Supposed to be the Sinai.

5. A “Chagall” mural by Anonymous, scraped off the wall from Mira’s Cafe, Mandel JCC, Beachwood, Ohio.

6. A video clip from Harley Son of David, a movie about Jewish motorcyclists.  Music by Yiddishe Cup.

7. Klezmer-themed postage stamps from Lichtenstein and Malaysia. Musicians on the stamps include Marcel Salomon, Adrianne Greenbaum and Moshe Berlin.

8. A matchbook from Solomon’s restaurant, Cedar Center, 1966.

9. Itchy the Squirrel, an animatron who sings “Oyfn Pripetchik.”  (Poor fidelity, but surprisingly good Yiddish.)

10. Shtetl Avenue — a recreation of 1920s East 105th Street, complete with midwives, klezmer bands, appetizing shops and candy stores.   Staffed by teen volunteers from Agnon School.

challah fameThe place is horrible. Don’t go.  Go to The Challah Fame.

(Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience.  Again: Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience)

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July 16, 2014   5 Comments


Ask me about my bike

Ask me about my bike trip

On the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), I’m around far fewer Jews than I’m used to. I’m most comfortable with a 20 percent-or-more Jewish crowd in life. If the Jewish count is less than that, I get a bit uneasy, mostly because less people understand my sense of humor.

My high school was about 25 percent Jewish; my college was about 20 percent Jewish; my social scene in Cleveland is 58.7 percent Jewish; and my place of worship is 100 percent.

On GOBA, there are at most 20 Jews out of 2,500 riders.  It’s like a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Oddly, one year (2009) I pedaled GOBA with an Orthodox woman. She brought more tuna fish than Nixon took to China. She wore a skirt. There was an Amish woman with a skirt too. The Frisco Kid: Gene Wilder and the Amish thing. Maybe both women will be at GOBA this year.

In 2010 I met a Jewish doctor from Dayton, Ohio; a Jewish guitar player from University Heights; and my buddy — and fellow cyclist — Irwin Weinberger (Yidddishe Cup’s singer) played “Ose Shalom” on Friday night.  This was after a fried fish shabbes dinner at the Fraternal Order of Eagles hall in McArthur, Ohio. We made kiddush over Miller Lite, which technically isn’t brucha (blessing) material. (Tain’t a grape.)

GOBA kicks off in Mansfield, Ohio, this Sunday.

Gear shift . . .

Is there a market for a Jewish-tinged “Chosen to Ride” bike tour of the Midwest?

Day 1

We meet at Chicago Midway airport and bike to Pepe’s, a Mexican restaurant on Cicero Avenue. Traffic is crazy but fun in Chicago. Bring a helmet and a sword.

Lodging at the Beloit, Wisconsin, Holiday Inn.

Day 2

Lunch stop at the Park View Motel, Richland Center, Wisconsin, next to AgriDairy. See the Frank Lloyd Wright silo.

Dinner at the Ground Round, Dubuque, Iowa.

Day 3

Pitch tents on the lawn of the Omaha JCC and check out the exhibit in the hallway about The Bagel, the name for the old Jewish ‘hood in Omaha.

chosen to ride  bicycling

Chosen to Ride

Day 4

Dinner in Nevada, Missouri.  We’ll eat in the cafeteria at Cottey College, an all-women’s school.

Days 5 and 6

Shabbes in St. Louis. We spend time off the bikes and at riverboat casinos, where we suck cig smoke and lose a few fun bucks. Each night we’re at Ted Drewes custard stand.

Day 7

Dinner at Wabash College, an all-men’s college in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Equal rights for men.

Day 8

At the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, we attend a concert by Gabe Kaplan and Yiddishe Cup. Kaplan doesn’t look like Gabe Kaplan anymore. He’s a million years old. (As is Yiddishe Cup.)  Kaplan’s best joke is “A widower in Miami Beach asks his date, an elderly woman, if she likes sex, and she says, ‘Infrequently.’ The widower says, ‘Is that one word or two?’”

Day 9

Our farewell banquet is at Ken’s Diner in Skokie, Illinois, a glatt kosher hamburger joint. Music by the clarinet/harp duo of Kurt and Annette Bjorling.

Think about it.


Yiddishe Cup is in Parade the Circle noon Saturday (June 14), Wade Oval, Cleveland.

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June 11, 2014   4 Comments


Save the date: August 31, Cleveland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save the date: August 31.


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


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

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

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


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March 19, 2014   1 Comment


I check out websites of other klezmer bands to see what I can steal. For instance, clarinetist Joel Rubin’s website had this bit: “Rubin has long been considered by many to be the leading performer of Jewish instrumental klezmer music in the world today.”

I stole from Rubin.

Please disregard the bracketed material . . .

Yiddishe Cup has long been considered by many [Alice Stratton, Irwin Weinberger, Steve Ostrow] to be the leading performers of Jewish klezmer comedy in the world.  Who else is doing klezmer comedy?  Who?  Name somebody!

Yiddishe Cup is an integral part of the music scene in Cleveland, which according to many [Lori Cahan-Simon, Steven Greenman,Walt Mahovlich] is quite vibrant. The Cleveland scene is a focal point of  klezmer and Eastern European music [according to Gheorghe Trombitas, Zenon Chaikovsky and Alex Fedoriouk].

Mickey Katz is where it all started for klezmer comedy.  [Somebody said that. Who?] Literary critic Leon Wieseltier called Katz the “mishugener.”  In Pirket Avot, it is written “Man is born to take the plough against the unyielding earth.” That is man’s job. The counterweight to that heavy lifting is the supremely nutty Katz, said Wieseltier.

Stratton’s former rabbi, Michael Hecht, said, “Make Judaism fun.”

Somebody [Lea Grossman of Boston?] said Yiddishe Cup is the most entertaining band in the country.  Yiddishe Cup is almost cool.  [George Robinson  wrote that, almost, in the New York Jewish Week.]

Yiddishe Cup is also a top notch simcha band [said Shawn Fink].  Let the wedding gigs roll forth! Funerals are more interesting than weddings, but Yiddishe Cup doesn’t play many funerals [zero, in fact]. Instead, the band plays parties and acts happy. You wouldn’t want musicians in mourning at your wedding.

How many bands have comedic and musical talent?  Yiddishe Cup does [said Irwin Weinberger and Don Friedman].

Who else is out there?  Weird Al Yankovic?  Shlock Rock?  They’re not as good as Yiddishe Cup [said Daniel Ducoff].

Yiddishe Cup strikes the classic Jewish outsider pose. Yiddishe Cup has long been considered a funny band. [Sanford Gordon thought so. So did Jack Saul.]

Yiddishe Cup is nostalgic and a bit corny, but in a good way.  Childhood was a lot less hassle than adulthood.

Other klezmer bands aren’t that funny [said Don Friedman].   They aren’t funny at all! [Find a source for that.]  There’s a pianist in Brooklyn, Pete Sokolow, who does Jewish spins on Fats Waller and Dixieland.  Sokolow wrote, “We purposefully try to remain faithful to the original performances.”  Does Sokolow do creative new adaptations?  OK, maybe.   Does Yiddishe Cup? Yes. [At least once: “Meshugeneh Mambo.”]

Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz –- the album — had two avant-garde jazz pieces and the rest was verbatim remakes of Mickey Katz tunes.  Make it new, Don Don!

Avi Hoffman’s Too Jewish Two album had a lot of humor, but was too schmaltzy. Sample song title: “I Love Being a Jew Blues.”

Yiddishe Cup is considered the best neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy band in the world [according to Alice Stratton, Jack Stratton, Daniel Ducoff, Steve Ostrow and Don Friedman].

Yiddishe Cup is the best band in the land.

[Who said that?]

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February 19, 2014   7 Comments


I have this new band, Funklikht, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who does it all, including Yiddish hip-hop. He was a shabbes goy in Oak Park. My drummer — also from Detroit — grew up  next-door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills.  He’s shit-plus.

My bass player kills it.  (He has a following in Norway.)

I found all these players in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I go up there regularly for cheap young talent.

We’re on fire. We play temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t stuck in the J bag.

We have a major presence on iTunes.  Our best-selling tunes are  “Shvantz Tantz,” “Di Gantse Velt is a Blintz” and “Dreck II.”

We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical; the label thinks we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish! We’re too filthy!


This one is real . . .


I knew two Larry Davises — both Jewish landlords in Cleveland. There was Larry Davis of Solon and Larry Davis of Cleveland Heights.

Larry Davis of Solon was a Romanian immigrant who developed industrial parks in the far eastern suburbs. He loved Yiddish music and hired Yiddishe Cup for his 75th birthday party. He died shortly after that. (No foul play.)

Larry Davis of the Heights is alive, and owns property in Cleveland Heights. You’ve probably seen him around (if you live in Cleveland). He has a beard, wear shorts a lot, and has a small tattoo on his leg. Larry Heights started with a lunch counter in Lakewood and worked his way up.

I ran into Larry Heights at the grocery store and we kvetched about the real estate biz. Our kids weren’t too crazy about running the properties. Larry said, “I wouldn’t wish it on my daughter.”

I thought to myself, “Here we are, two fairly healthy guys, standing in the vegetable aisle at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. Objectively speaking, we’ve got it made.”

Maybe I’m the third Larry Davis. Larry Davis Heights II.


Larry Davis, Heights, left / Larry Davis, Solon, right:

(Click on the drawing to make it bigger)

Footnote: “Objectively speaking, you’ve got it made” is a line I regularly steal from writer Mark Schilling.

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

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December 18, 2013   7 Comments


I’m popular on the klezmer scene, mostly because I run The Challah Fame (aka the Klezmer Hall of Fame). The principle of the klezmer scene being the starved-dog principle when you throw a bit of food into the pit and all the dogs leap for it with fangs out, killing each other as they leap, that is the scene. There are so few bones (gigs) that the competition turns musicians into creeps immediately, because they’re climbing over each other’s backs for scraps.

I produce concerts at The Challah Fame. These concerts are big productions, and mine to dole out.  I favor Steven Greenman, for instance, because he has a cute bulldog and lives in Cleveland.  My band, Yiddishe Cup, naturally gets heavy rotation.  I also hire Harmonia and a handful of other bands that treat me right.

I pick musicians who, first off, like the Midwest (no putdowns of Cleveland, please), who play masterfully, who do the obligatory educational workshop, and who get drunk with me after the show. I like performers who tell me who is sleeping with whom on the scene, who is getting gigs in Poland, and who is on Sapoznik’s most-favored list today.  (Sapoznik is the klez Mafia don and a co-founder of KlezKamp.)

I try to hire young klezmer musicians because I was one once.  I remember when I lived near Coventry Road with a couple of babies.  The babies’ bedroom had obscene paintings on the wall and toys strewn about.  It was a typical starving musician’s pad, and I was the boss.  I thought so.  My wife didn’t. I got up every morning at 5 a.m. and watched the speed freaks feed the pigeons at Turtle Park. I’m looking for young Challah Fame talent like that.

If you’re a fresh, new klez musician and want to be really popular — “sell out” — that’s fine with me.  I respect any player who wants to eat.  If you can wrangle a gig with Perlman, go for it.  To me, Hustler is not just an Ohio-based porn magazine, it’s a badge of honor. Circle the wagons and promote yourself.

The perks the ones I dispense — go to musicians who respect The Challah Fame and its mission.  The Challah Fame, and the klezmer world in general, is a network, a mini-establishment.  When you mess with The Challah, you are messing not only me, but with everybody who buys into The Challah Fame, and that’s a lot of yehudim (plus three gentiles in Germany).

The Challah receives grant money from the county, state, NEA and foundations.  And a lot of individual philanthropic donations.  Enemies of The Challah are doomed,  on the outside looking in, like Pete Rose, forever.

I won’t print my enemies’ names.  So many people detest me, and they would love recognition — any recognition.

On second thought, haters, sign in here.  I  need to update my data base:__________, ___________, ___________, ___________, _____________, _____________.

Friends?  I have a few.  Wex, he’s très kosher. If you don’t know Wex, pick up a copy of the Klezmer News today at your newsstand and read up, man!  Wex is the poet laureate of klezmer.  He talked to me back when I was nobody,  before The Challah opened. I still enjoy getting drunk with Wex.

I like Byron too.  Lord Don Byron.  Thanks, Don, we’re  tired of just klez cats (kitties) on FB.

Rubintubist Rubin — is also on my A team, even though he once called Yiddishe Cup “crap,” or words to that effect.  Yiddishe Cup is a middle-brow schmaltz peddler, Rubin said.  I’m open to criticism if it’s that outrageous.

My scene, it is so different from the other klezmer scenes. My scene is compassionate and fun.

Heymish?  Nah.



The first paragraph of this post is a 95-percent ripoff of a Tom Clark rant on the poetry scene from Little Caesar #11 magazine, 1980.   Seventeen-percent of the rest of the post is a ripoff as well.  Thanks to Charlie Burch for the Little Caesar article.

File “My Scene” under KlezFiction. The complete KlezFiction series is here.

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December 11, 2013   12 Comments