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Yiddishe Cup brings fun brand of Jewish music to Dallas


By PARRY GETTELMAN / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

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 instrument."

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 high energy."

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 New Orleans.

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.


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