A revealing behind-the-scenes look at a great orchestra and the colorful genius who shaped it.

Tales from the Locker Room


Pratfalls, ego clashes, and psychodramas infuse classical music on the grandest scale in this reminiscence of the Cleveland Orchestra under its legendary leader.

During his 1946-70 tenure, the Hungarian-born conductor George Szell turned the Cleveland Orchestra from a second-rate ensemble into what many considered the world’s best orchestra and conducted many landmark recordings of the classical repertoire. He accomplished this through relentless rehearsals, dictatorial control over the tiniest details of performances, and domineering mind games aimed at bending musicians to his will. In this loose-limbed retrospective, Angell, a bassist who played 15 years under Szell’s baton, and Jaffe collect stories from Cleveland Orchestra musicians who both loathe and lionize their former boss. They tell of nerve-wracking auditions, lies and manipulations regarding their contracts, and horrible elevator encounters in which trapped musicians struggled to make small talk with him. They also relate his countless onstage insults and belittlements, from the cutting (“We’d be happy to accommodate to your small tone,” he told a violin soloist who wanted the orchestra to play quietly) to the crude (“you play like a pig, a swine,” he informed another), and his ugly feuds with rebellious underlings, especially superstar oboist Marc Lifschey, who “played like a gypsy whore,” Szell proclaimed. They share stories of his sheer, demented hubris; in one tale, for example, Szell insisted that a pianist rehearse on a coffee table and then criticized his mimed “playing”; when the pianist objected, the maestro canceled his concerto. “Son of a bitch,” “bastard,” and “I despised him,” are among the verdicts that Angell and Jaffe elicit—but also common, and quite illuminating, are grudging-to-reverent acknowledgments of Szell’s profound insights into music and the sublime performances he extracted from the orchestra, surpassing what even the musicians themselves thought they could achieve. These rambling interviews, with commentary by Angell and Jaffe, don’t have much structure, and some of the anecdotes will seem obscure to nonmusicians, but readers will find most of the hodgepodge accessible and entertaining. From these vignettes emerges an engrossing, pointillist portrait of the emotional stress and artistic rewards of high-stakes music-making.

A revealing behind-the-scenes look at a great orchestra and the colorful genius who shaped it.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1626130531

Page Count: 190

Publisher: ATBOSH Media Ltd.

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2015

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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