Tarras, born Dovid Tarraschuk in Ternivka, (a village in Teplytskyi Raion, Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine), was the son of a klezmer trombonist and Badkhn. He grew up playing a variety of instruments and surrounded by the music. He was conscripted into the tsar's army in 1915, but his talents as a musician kept him out of the trenches. In 1921 he emigrated to New York City, where worked in a garment factory for a time.
Eventually he found that he could make money as a musician, and found a place as a clarinetist in many of New York's klezmer ensembles. In addition to Jewish music, he also recorded Greek, Polish, and Russian tunes. His ability to play different styles was further masked by the use of pseudonyms on records for the Columbia company. His recordings are conservatively estimated at around 500 over the course of his career.
His reliability and skill saw him play for many years after the other famous klezmer clarinetist of his day, Naftule Brandwein, became unreliable as a performer. Tarras' experience playing in the czarist military band, his ability to read music, and his excellent command of the Yiddish style made him a favorite among band leaders. After klezmer music fell out of fashion following World War II, Tarras remained one of the few musicians to still record and play actively. His style as a musician has been characterized as smooth and dignified, with deliberate and rhythmical phrasing. His personal repertoire comes from his Bessarabian roots and combined these influences with Jewish and Gypsy (Roma) style musics. Zev Feldman has credited Tarras with not only "Bessarabianizing" Jewish dance music, but also with replacing what had been the dominant tune style of the freylekh with the bulgar.
His most long lasting recording, Tanz! (1956) was the brainchild of Tarras' son-in-law, clarinetist and saxophonist, Sammy Musiker. The album, which successfully combines jazz and klezmer idioms, was not well-received in its day, but remains central to the literature of present-day revivalists.
- Feldman, Walter Zev. "Bulgărească/Bulgarish/Bulgar: The Transformation of a Klezmer Dance Genre." In American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, edited by Mark Slobin, 84-126. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
- Larkin, Colin. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Macmillan, 1998.
- Netsky, Hankus. "American Klezmer: A Brief History," in American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, edited by Mark Slobin, 52-72. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
- Sadie, Stanley; Hitchcock, H. Wiley (Ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1986.
- Sapoznik, Henry. Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World. New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 2006.
- Strom, Yale. The Book of Klezmer. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2002.
- Sapoznik, Henry (2006). Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World. New York: Schirmer Trade Books. pp. 11, 108–11.
- Strom, Yale (2002). The Book of Klezmer. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated. pp. 160–61.
- Feldman, Zev (2002). Mark Slobin, ed. American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp. 101–08.
- Sapoznik, Henry (2006). Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World. New York: Schirmer Trade Books. pp. 145–46, 156–60.
- Netsky, Hankus (2002). Mark Slobin, ed. American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 21.
- Obituary in The New York Times, February 14, 1989 (retrieved January 25, 2010)
- National Fellowship Heritage 1984