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Dave Tarras

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Dovid Tarraschuk (1897–1989), better known as David Tarras, was one of the best respected and most famous klezmer musicians in America, widely known for graceful, soaring music with its powerful evocation of shtetl life.

Tarras came from the small town of Ternovka, near the Ukrainian city of Uman. He was exposed to klezmer music early in his childhood because his father was a klezmer trombonist and batkhn. Tarras played for a while in his father’s family kapelye (band). He played balalaika, cobza, guitar, mandolin and flute. In 1915 Tarras (already playing clarinet) was conscripted into the Czar’s army. Like many klezmorim before him, his music skills gave him the opportunity to serve as a musician in the military ensemble instead of in the trenches. Eventually the Russian Revolution, pogroms and an unstable economic environment forced Tarras to immigrate to New York City in 1921. There he first worked in a garment factory as a janitor because he did not think he was good enough to be a professional musician.

But soon Tarras found out he was better than most, and he earned a lot more money playing the clarinet. Tarras’s ability to transpose and read music made him a much in-demand player, launching his career as well as a longtime rivalry with colleague and fellow clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. Tarras’s sight-reading skills and completely placid disposition soon won him Brandwein’s chair in Joseph Cherniavsky’s ensemble, the Yiddish American Jazz Band.

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