Zestfully enthusiastic and seemingly unstoppable after six decades as a successful bandleader, Stan Rubin ’55 plans to bound onto the stage once again at the Class of 1956’s 55th Reunion this month. It will mark his 57th performance, he says, at Reunions — and bring him back to the place where his career began, back when his Tigertown Five Dixieland band rode an early ’50s wave of interest in jazz on campuses nationwide.
Rubin performs tirelessly at society parties as well as weekly at three clubs in New York. At 77, he is thriving, despite brain surgery more than two decades ago that robbed him of the ability to play his beloved clarinet. Dance music is his stock in trade, he says, “but my passion is playing music of the swing era.”
The son of a bandleader-turned-lawyer, Rubin was distraught to be cut from the freshman basketball team as an undergraduate. But he threw his energy into the newly formed Stan Rubin and his Tigertown Five, which gave him an excuse to roam on weekends. “He was a natural performer,” recalls his friend Royce Flippin ’56 of long-ago concerts in Elm Club. “He ate up the crowd. And our dates loved his music — that’s pretty important!”
So popular was Tigertown Five that the recording company RCA Victor signed Rubin on. Even as he was writing his senior thesis, he played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall. Invited to perform at a party at the Cherry Hill Inn in New Jersey, Rubin danced with actress Grace Kelly. She was sensitive, funny, and so beautiful “you’d get that weak feeling in your stomach,” he says.
But after a short time, RCA Victor suddenly shelved Tigertown Five’s new single to make way for a performer they’d just signed on. They promised to bring Rubin back soon, saying of his rival, a newcomer named Presley, “He won’t last long.” But rock ’n’ roll brought the end of Rubin’s career as a recording artist. Temporarily giving up on music, he began earning a law degree like his dad.
Then fate intervened. In 1956, Grace Kelly invited only one American jazz band to play her “wedding of the century” in Monaco: Tigertown Five. Prince Rainier insisted that band members appear not in tuxedos, but in their orange-and-black blazers.
“That was the moment that changed my life,” Rubin says, one that happily deflected him from a career as a lawyer. Tigertown Five appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and had every society bride in the country clamoring to have the group play at her wedding, too. Many high-profile events followed: In his scrapbook, Rubin smiles in photographs alongside bejeweled beauties Lillian Gish, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, and many others. (To listen to Rubin’s big band swing, go to www.stanrubin.com.)
Thousands of Tigers have heard Rubin’s various bands play — whether at two dozen senior proms on campus, innumerable alumni weddings, or Reunions. “My favorite job is playing Reunions,” says this affable musician who has performed all over the world. “Princeton has given me so many wonderful friends.”“Stan has played for every Class of ’56 major reunion except our 35th,” says Flippin. “His presence was always a consensus. He always gave his all, drew the largest crowds year after year, and never disappointed.”