Danny Rubinstein and his Orchestra /
The Happy People

Album cover: The 50's!!!

Danny Rubinstein and his Orchestra
The Happy People

1958, rerelease 2008

Enhanced CD rerelease engineered by SoCalled
Available from the SoCalled Store

A few years ago at KlezKanada, I spent a delightful hour on a rainy afternoon sipping scotch with an amazing clarinet player named Danny Rubinstein. Self-taught, he was considered one of the critical 1950s masters of the genre. Listening to him in 2008 was a treat. I could only imagine how much better he was in his prime.

Thanks to Montreal hip hop maven, Socalled, I don't have to imagine Rubinstein in his prime. This lovingly remastered disk captures a master clarinetist at a time when klezmer was about to largely disappear from American Jewish weddings, and certainly from record stores. Yet, for a brief period in the 1950s, boosted largely by nostalgia, Jewish dance music was a hugely popular genre and reflected an amalgam of everything worth listening to in popular American dance music with a refined, swinging, wonderful sense of Eastern European simkhe music. (Remember, the term "klezmer" to describe the music didn't even exist yet, and the term, when used to describe a musician, was extremely derogatory. Even the term "Yiddish" was rare--people were conscious of being American and hadn't yet pondered the fact that there were other Jewish languages, so the mamaloshn was simply translated straight into English: "Jewish.")

You can get a sense of the mood just from the song titles: "Bar Mitzvah Songs" and "For Mothers-In-Law," or the wonderful title track, "The Happy People." The thing is, despite the kitschy cover and the "genericization" of the music, what remained still swings over 50 years later. I think of it as the Epstein Brothers effect, after watching the brothers play in their alleged dotage and still swinging, perfectly; holding an audience that didn't even know their music in the palm of their hands. Danny Rubinstein is that kind of musician.

Here's the other thing you'll realize when you listen to this CD. The best of American simkhe music hasn't changed. Except for show tunes such as "Skrip Klezmerl Skripe," The song titles have changed—we know most of these melodies, just under different names (which has a lot to do with copyright law not being a barrier to delivering the music that people want to hear.) The trills and krechts are the same, and the melodies and beats are just what you would ask for at a Bat/Bar Mitzvah or Wedding today—you just hope that the band sounds this good and this polished. And where the spirit is the same, but the melodies are unfamiliar, as on "My Brother Seymour," you can hear echos of the Philadelphia Sher and other tunes in the background. You wish your current simkhe band was playing this tune! Even more interesting, the closing "Wedding Songs and Hora" captures some of the new Israeli tunes that were about to change everything.

There are other elements to the time capsure. Today's simkhe band will include some jazz or rock standards. In Danny Rubinstein's day, those other musics were from other European traditions—listen to the delightful "Krakowiat Polka" or the "Czardas," each performed with a perfected, silky smooth bar mitzvah beat as Rubinstein's amazing clarinet weaves the melody.

This is just excellent, get up out of your chair and dance around the room wonderful. On the rerelease CD there is also a bonus video in which Danny discusses his music with Pete Sokolow, the "fifth" Epstein and critical bridge musician between this generation and ours. Many kudos to Socalled for ensuring this re-release (and reminding me periodically to listen to it, knowing that a good listen was going to finally motivate this review). We sometimes like to kvetch and complain otherwise, but this is the music that ensures that we are, in fact, a happy people. Get your copy and play it whenever you want to feel even happier.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 25 Sep 2011

Personnel this recording:
Danny Rubinstein: clarinet
Harry Brown: trumpet
Sam Kutcher: trombone
Warner Shilkret: piano
Dick Romoff: bass
Marvin Kutcher: drums

Song Titles

  1. The Happy People (Rubinstein) 1:56
  2. Mamaliger (trad.) 3:06
  3. Bar Mitzvah Songs (Feengold) 3:05
  4. Melody in F (trad.) 2:18
  5. Skrip Klezmerl Skripe (Towber & Secunda) 2:02
  6. Krakowiat Polka (trad.) 2:48
  7. For Mothers-in-Law (trad.) 2:40
  8. My Brother Seymour (Amsterdam) 2:25
  9. Czardas (trad.) 2:43
  10. You, the Sun, and the Stars (Jacobs & Olshanetsky) 2:30
  11. Bulgar in Swing (trad.) 2:21
  12. Wedding Songs and Hora (trad.) 2:55

to top of page To top of page

the KlezmerShack Ari's home page
to About the Jewish-music mailing list
to The Klezmer Shack main page
to Ari Davidow's home page