The Tarras Legacy: Celebrating the King of American Klezmer Music

Dave Tarras plays a solo photo CTMD Archive

This special program was originally developed for the Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York, to be performed at the beautifully restored Museum at Eldridge Street’s synagogue sanctuary. It features live performances as well as rare video footage and photographs of Dave Tarras from the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Archive. Clarinetist Dave Tarras (1895-1989) remains the most influential and well-known American klezmer musician of all time. Through his compositions, live performances and recordings, the Ukrainian-born virtuoso was the unrivaled leader in the creation of a uniquely American klezmer sound.

While the popularity of klezmer amongst American Jews declined precipitously after WWII, Tarras’s career was reborn in the late 1970’s through a project conducted by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance (then called the Balkan Arts Center). The project played a major role in sparking an international revival of klezmer, and thirty-one years after his death, Tarras remains an indelible force in the performance and conception of klezmer.

Clarinetist and ethnomusicologist Joel Rubin has spent the past two decades specializing in the repertoire of Dave Tarras, with numerous recordings, lectures and publications on the subject. Rubin is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Music Performance at the McIntire Department of Music of the University of Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from City University of London, and his dissertation analyzed the music of New York klezmer clarinetists Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein. Rubin is also an internationally acclaimed performer of Jewish instrumental klezmer music and hasidic music, having founded the pioneering revival group Brave Old World and now performing and recording internationally as leader of the Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble. His principal teachers were Richard Stoltzman and Kalmen Opperman.

The program is in two halves. The first half features the duo of Joel Rubin and Pete Rushefsky demonstrating the Old World roots of Dave Tarras. The second half is a recreation of the famous Dave Tarras Trio from the 1930s and 40s, featuring Rubin on clarinet, David Licht on drums, and Art Bailey on accordion, among other musicians.