Expect more music, less comedy

Klezmer band will try to play it straight (mostly) this time
Thursday, February 01, 2007
News Special Writer

Bert Stratton may be a lifelong Cleveland area resident, but he definitely has some Ann Arbor ties - and some pretty strong ones, at that. Stratton, leader of the Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Band, was a student at the University of Michigan from 1969 to 1973, and while he was here, helped to organize the first Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival.

And these days, Stratton's son, Jack, is a U-M student who seems to be going in a half-dozen different musical directions at once - in addition to sometimes gigging with Yiddishe Cup, he's a member of the Ann Arbor-based West Lounge Klezmer Band, the group Groove (a U-M "Stomp''-like ensemble) and Kol HaKavod (a U-M Jewish a cappella group).

Maybe it's Jack's ubiquitous U-M activities that have led Yiddishe Cup to add Ann Arbor back to its gigging circuit again after "having it sort of fall off our map'' for many years. But, truth is, Cleveland has such a strong, vibrant Jewish community that the group keeps very busy there, just playing concerts, weddings, bar mitzvahs and various other Jewish-community events.

The group comes to Ann Arbor for a stop at The Ark on Saturday.

Stratton, who plays clarinet, formed Yiddishe Cup 18 years ago, and lately, he says, the band likes to keep audiences guessing. Crowds don't always know what version of the band will show up.

Last year's Ann Arbor gig was 70 percent elbow-in-the-ribs Yid-shtick and 30 percent heartfelt klezmer music - the historic folk music of Eastern European Jews. But then, last year's gig was right on the heels of the band's release "Meshugeneh Mambo,'' its comedic tribute to Mickey Katz, who Stratton says was "the Al Yankovic of the Borscht Belt circuit during the 1950s-'60s. He would take popular songs of the day and do them klezmer-style, adding funny lyrics,'' said Stratton by phone from his home in Cleveland.

But since Ann Arbor audiences got their fill of the group's "Yiddfellas'' brand of humor at last year's show (that's actually the title of another of their albums), Saturday's show will be the opposite - "maybe 30 percent humor and 70 percent danceable klezmer music,'' he said. "Because most klezmer fans definitely like to hear that clarinet right up front, playing lively dance tunes.''

As for his own connection to the music of his ancestors, Stratton was like many baby-boomer Jews - his first musical passions were rock 'n' roll and modern jazz, and he didn't re-embrace klezmer music until he was in his 30s.

"But this music definitely resonates with me, especially the minor-scale stuff,'' said Stratton, now 56. "That's the stuff I heard growing up, even in synagogue. So there is definitely a visceral attachment. It's like there is something in me that has to play these scales.''

2007 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission.