Bert Stratton, clarinetist/saxophonist and leader of
Yiddishe Cup, is pretty sure his klezmer band is the only one
in operation that includes a designated dancer.
"We call him the 'shtickmeister,' Mr. Stratton said by
phone from his home in Cleveland, Ohio. "He doesn't really
play an instrument – although he thinks the tambourine is an
Shtickmeister Daniel Ducoff is a great dancer, Mr. Stratton
says, and he knows how to get the audience involved. But a
shtickmeister just provides a little extra nudge for the shy
and reluctant, since klezmer is, above all, dance music – as
any small child can tell you upon his first encounter with it.
"Really little kids go nuts," Mr. Stratton said. "It's very
Mr. Stratton's group kicks off a new concert series at
Temple Emanu-El in Dallas Sunday. He said what gets people
going is klezmer's distinctive polyrhythmic beat. While the
bass is playing a steady one-two beat – "the oompah thing" –
other instruments are playing a more rapid, complex beat.
"They play off each other," he said. "It gives it a
palpable kind of lift."
Klezmer, secular music born in Eastern European
shtetls (Jewish villages), began immigrating to the
United States at the end of the 19th century. And just as
European klezmorim had embraced regional folk songs, American
klezmer musicians incorporated American jazz and swing.
"Klezmer's like a garbage dump," Mr. Stratton said. "You
can throw anything into it. But the key thing is, you got to
know the basics before you throw other things in."
Klezmer has seen a revival of interest in recent years,
especially in New York's avant-leaning downtown jazz scene.
But Mr. Stratton emphasized that the members of Yiddishe Cup –
also including Irwin Weinberger (vocals, guitar, mandolin,
flute, alto sax), Steve Ostrow (trombone, trumpet, violin,
tsimbl, classical guitar), Alan Douglass (keyboards,
backing vocals, string bass, theremin, cello) and Don Friedman
(drums, percussion) – aren't jazz musicians playing klezmer.
They're klezmer musicians who might throw in a little jazz.
And a lot of Borscht Belt humor. Mr. Stratton is a great
admirer of fellow Cleveland native Mickey Katz, the Spike
Jones sideman whom he calls "the Jewish Louis Armstrong."
"[Katz] wanted to entertain people, but he was also a
tremendous musician," Mr. Stratton said.
Yiddishe Cup's most recent CD, 1999's lively
Yiddfellas, includes "That's Morris," Katz's giddy
parody of "That's Amore." There are more Katz tunes in the
band's live repertoire, as well as an update of Slim
Gaillard's "Mishugana Mambo." On stage, Mr. Stratton also
incorporates vintage Catskills comedy he unearthed from the
enormous record collection of Jack Saul, an elderly member of
Cleveland's close-knit Jewish community.
"That whole era of '50s Jewish humor is dying, and some of
it should be saved," Mr. Stratton said.
Parry Gettelman is a free-lance writer based in
YIDDISHE CUP Sunday at 4 p.m. Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest
Road. $15, Seniors $12, children $5. Tickets for four-concert
series are $50. Seniors, $40. Call 214-706-0000.