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Yiddishe Cup

#TraditionsTuesday: Bert Stratton and Yiddishe Cup

Bert Stratton is a Cleveland native who is sometimes referred to as “Klezmer is ‘Hava Nagila’ to the 10th power,” says Bert Stratton, a Cleveland native who is sometimes referred to as “Klezmer Guy.” “It’s intense Jewish music from Eastern Europe.”

Regularly rated among the top Jewish bands in the nation, Yiddishe Cup, the group Stratton leads, have a well-earned reputation for pushing the creative envelope. Their records include everything from a traditional hora to experimentation with a theremin, and a hallmark for the group is their mash up arrangements of Klezmer with other musical genres. This provides a rich creative ground that spurred the group to celebrate their 30th anniversary by launching a tongue-in-cheek rebranding of the band as “Funk A Deli.” Yiddishe Cup is a wonderful goulash of real musical chops, traditional Jewish culture, and comedy reminiscent of the 1950s Borsht Belt circuit. If you’ve seen and loved The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you’ll be right at home here. As one reviewer put it, “The band is tighter than the seal on a bottle of Manishewitz gefilte fish.” (Davidow, Klezmershack, 2004)

A musical style which dates back centuries, Klezmer is a part of the cultural and religious tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Historically, it pulls influence from Baroque, Ottoman, and Jewish Religious music, along with traditional German and Slavic dances. It is the soul music of Jewish celebration and is stylistically difficult to define. Klezmer often follows modalities and incorporates some atonal aspects, rather than the major or minor keys which are typical in Western Music. Some of these characteristics have woven themselves into the broader fabric of American culture. Think for a moment of the opening clarinet notes of Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue"—the slow slide into a delicious tension before that marvelous resolution. Pair that with the instantly recognizable “If I Were a Rich Man” melody from Fiddler on the Roof and you get a taste of Klezmer musicality in seminal American pieces.

As an artist, Stratton has been deeply influenced by Mickey Katz, the Cleveland-based musician and comedian who rose to fame in the 1940s and '50s. Katz’s success, combined with the large Jewish population in the Cleveland area, made it a perfect crucible for the Klezmer Revival of the 1970s. The revival was sparked by baby boomers who wanted to save their culture from the assimilation which became common for Jews fearing anti-Semitism after the Second World War. “If we didn’t preserve it, it wouldn’t exist,” said Stratton. “We’re the last drop in the lake and we’re trying to fill it with rainwater.” 

Take up the #TraditionTuesday:

EXPAND: Visit yiddishecup.com to learn more about the band and to read Stratton’s blog, “The Klezmer Guy.”  A regular writer for The Wall Street Journal, Stratton blogs his hot takes on Cleveland; Klezmer; his late father, Toby; and a collection of creative “Fake Profiles.”

EXPERIENCE: Dates for upcoming public performances and links to videos of past performances can be found listed on yiddishecup.com. You can also listen to the group on Spotify here: rb.gy/mshqc1

EXPLORE: Learn more about Klezmer and Jewish Culture in Ohio by visiting:

  • Cleveland’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage either in person or online.  This museum focuses on diversity and tolerance and is supported partially through grants from the Ohio Arts Council.  
  • Violinist Steven Greenman, whom Stratton calls “the best Klezmer artist in Ohio,” is currently serving as a Master Artist for the Ohio Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Apprentice Program. Learn about his work, compositions, and educational offerings at his website: stevengreenman.com

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amy Ruggaber, Ohio Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Contractor



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