In August 2007, my third year as a scholarship student at the KlezKanada traditional Yiddish arts retreat, musician-producer-puppeteer-polymath Josh Dolgin (aka Socalled) challenged me to make an experimental documentary about Danny Rubinstein, a klezmer clarinetist whose largely forgotten 1958 LP “The Happy People” was receiving renewed interest in the klezmer music community. Rubinstein was a guest performer at KlezKanada that year, and seemed surprised that so many young people were interested in his music. He had dusted off his clarinet and started practicing again (much to his wife’s dismay) in preparation for the performance.
My film is based on a discussion between Rubinstein and pianist-singer-composer-bandleader Pete Sokolow that was arranged and moderated by Josh Dolgin in a cabin at the KlezKanada Laurentian retreat. A year after Rubinstein’s klezmer homecoming, Dolgin issued a remastered CD release of “The Happy People” (available for purchase here) which includes my short film as an enhanced feature.
A brief biography from the 2007 KlezKanada brochure, probably authored by Josh Dolgin and/or Pete Sokolow.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, clarinetist Danny Rubinstein – one of the leading lights of American Jewish and society music – studied clarinet and saxophone at an early age with his first cousin, the late Howie Leess. Danny became a “first call” commercial performer with society and show bands as well as Jewish groups – klezmer and Hassidic. He has worked for virtually every Jewish bandleader in the industry – they were lucky to get him! – and was one of the busiest free-lancers in the New York musician’s union, Local 802.
Danny got a great sound out of each instrument, be it alto or tenor sax, clarinet or flute. He played superior swing and early-bop jazz on tenor, excellent lead alto sax, lovely flute, and expressive Jewish clarinet in a style based on Dave Tarras’ and Max Epstein’s. To this day he is considered the only player who could approximate “Maxie’s” phrasing. Rubinstein has made many recordings – including the 1959 The Happy People with his own band – and countless more with groups ranging from Neginah and the Epstein Brothers to Peter Sokolow. He has been renowned for his ability to fill any chair in a reed section, solo effortlessly, and always sound first-rate. Danny continues to work as a klezmer specialist and society saxophonist in his home area of Florida.