The Yiddishe Cup klezmer band, formed in 1988, has been performing at the summer concert band series in University Heights for at least 20 years, said Bert Stratton, the band’s founder and leader.
“It’s our longest-running annual gig,” Stratton said before the band’s free concert July 5 on the lawn at Wiley Middle School. “We play all over the country, but this is our home base.”
Stratton, of Cleveland Heights, and his five-piece band entertained a crowd of about 100 people as part of the city’s annual Family Fun Night.
It performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and what Stratton calls “Yinglish” — a combination of Yiddish and English.
“Nobody does what we do, which is neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy,” said Stratton, who plays clarinet, saxophone and harmonica.
According to the band’s website, klezmer music is a hybrid of Eastern European Jewish folk music, American swing, Yiddish theater tunes and Israeli horas.
‘Humor and funny shtick’
Irwin Weinberger, the band’s lead vocalist who joined in 1989, said the band’s concerts feature “lots of humor and funny shtick.”
The klezmer music ties him to his parents’ past, Weinberger said.
“They were Holocaust survivors from Poland,” he said. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction seeing people getting into our music, through dancing and watching us perform.”
Weinberger, of University Heights, not only sings, but he also plays guitar, mandolin, flute and ukulele.
Stratton, who grew up in South Euclid, was a Sun News reporter in the early 1980s. He writes a weekly blog called Klezmer Guy.
Other band members include Alan Douglass, of Lakewood, who plays keyboards, shares lead vocals and provides backup vocals; Steve Ostrow, of Berea, who plays trumpet, trombone and violin; and Don Friedman, of Brecksville, who plays drums and percussion instruments.
Daniel Ducoff, of Beachwood, is the band’s “shtickmeister” or klezmer dancer. He encourages audience members to get up and dance with him.
“It’s time for stretch and kvetch,” said Ducoff, as he and Alice Stratton, a Cleveland Heights resident who is Bert Stratton’s wife, started dancing with each other to the band’s music.
Guest singer Shawn Fink, of University Heights, joined the band to sing lead on several songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Tribute to Cedar Center
Another highlight was the band’s performance of a song it created last year titled “Warrensville and Cedar Road.”
“It’s a tribute to Cedar Center, past and present,” Stratton said.
The song, which features a Latin-style beat, is based on an obscure 1947 song called “Pico and Sepulveda,” which includes many Los Angeles-area street names. Yiddishe Cup adapted its original song to feature street names in University Heights and South Euclid.
“I’ll stay right here at Cedar Center, where everyone’s dreams come true,” Weinberger sang.
The band also performed a couple parodies made popular by Mickey Katz, a Cleveland-born comedian and musician who specialized in Jewish humor. Stratton said he was inspired and influenced by Katz, who also played the clarinet and was the father of actor-entertainer Joel Grey.
Yiddishe Cup will do a tribute to Katz at 7 p.m. Aug. 9 at Cain Park’s Alma Theater in Cleveland Heights.
Other selections by the band included “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” “Tsouris” (Yiddish for “trouble”), “Meshugeneh Mambo,” “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” “Romania” and a parody of “Rock Around the Clock.”
Activities for children
Meanwhile, children and their parents enjoyed the Family Fun Night activities, which included face painting and make-your-own beaded bracelets.
Those activities were coordinated by the city’s recreation department, since Family Connections of Northeast Ohio — which typically joins the city in organizing the annual event — was unable to staff it this year due to another commitment, Mayor Susan Infeld said.
But another tradition of Family Fun Night, free ice cream bars for everyone, was upheld. They were passed out with a smile by Councilwoman Pam Cameron.
The free concert series continues at 7:30 p.m. today, when the University Heights Symphonic Band performs at Wiley.
Other concerts are scheduled each Thursday through Aug. 23.