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Yiddish Melodies in Swing
1 The Rise of Yiddish Swing
2 "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen"
3 Tarras and Brandwein
NPR Documentary
Yiddish Melodies in Swing, the documentary about the birth of a Jewish-American musical fusion. (16:00 min.)

Photos of Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein  

"Second Avenue Square Dance," Dave Tarras Orchestra, 1950.

"Die Goldene Khasene," Abe Ellstein Orchestra with Dave Tarras, 1940.

"Turkish Yalle Ve Uve," Naftule Brandwein Orchestra, 1923.

"Die Heiser Bulgar," Naftule Brandwein Orchestra, 1924

What Is Klezmer? Pianist/arranger Peter Sokolow explains

Tarras and Brandwein

Dave Tarras, the Yiddish Melodies in Swing clarinetist, was brought up in the world of klezmer, the traditional instrumental music of Eastern European Jews. But he was no stranger to the New World technology of radio.

Apart from his longstanding gig on Yiddish Melodies in Swing, Tarras was the musical director of the low-power WBBC (Brooklyn Broadcasting Company), where he played old-fashioned bulgars and sweet waltzes between programs, tailoring the name of his ensemble to whoever was footing the bill. His band could start the afternoon as Dave Tarras and the WBBC Ensemble, transform fifteen minutes later into Dave Tarras and the Breakstone Ensemble, and round out the hour as Dave Tarras and the Stanton Street Clothiers Ensemble.

Key to Tarras's success were his extraordinary music reading ability and his capacity to show up to a gig sober and on time. Neither quality was shared by Tarras's chief rival, Naftule Brandwein -- the other leading contender for the title of the twentieth century's greatest klezmer clarinetist.

Brandwein was Tarras's opposite in almost every respect. Unable to read a note of music, he preferred the poker table to the bandstand and the liquor bottle to just about everything else. Onstage he wore an Uncle Sam outfit wrapped in Christmas lights, which blew up one night as his perspiration got out of hand. His playing was as rough and wild as his temperament, laced with elements of Greek, Turkish, and Gypsy music.

Brandwein was a fearless musician, always teetering on the edge of disaster. A favorite of Murder Incorporated, for whom he performed in a famed hideaway behind a Brooklyn candy store, the talented iconoclast left a lasting mark on the development of klezmer music.

Aficionados of the genre argue to this day about which of the two klezmer masters, Tarras or Brandwein, was the greatest. As far as who was better suited to radio, history long ago passed definitive judgment.


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