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Friday, June 10, 2011

Earl Wild's 'Walk on the Wild Side'


American pianist Earl Wild (1915-2010) lived here in Columbus for several years while teaching at The Ohio State University. Columbus the city and a number of people here come off very well in Earl Wild's new memoir A Walk on the Wild Side. Several well placed members of the local arts community do not! No offense, but I suspect Earl Wild counted his OSU tenure as the least of his accomplishments.

Wild was a member of the WOSU family in the mid 19990s. He was host of a series I produced, Earl Wild's Grande Piano. He introduced great pianists going back eighty years. He included himself, but not much.

Earl spent the brief time I knew him taking about and threatening all with his impending autobiography. It had been in preparation for many years. Now, over a year after Earl Wild's death at 95, the book has arrived.

Wild Side? You don't know the half of it. Earl knew EVERYONE . From Rachmaninoff to Rubinstein, from Stokowski to Sid Caesar. Earl was Toscanini's pianist pianist at NBC and was active in the late days of radio through the early days of television. The first televised piano recital-ever-was given by Earl Wild in the late 1930s!

Not only did Earl know everybody, he had opinions about everybody and everything. He is not shy.

This is a 900 page book. It sorely needed editing, but you bet, this is Earl Wild's 'voice' as I knew him. Drag balls, night life, skewering enemies and praising friends-and rehabilitating artists like Arthur Fiedler, whose reputation never kept up with his fame. I do suspect publication was delayed until everyone was dead!

You'll never listen to Isaac Stern's recordings in the same way after reading this book, and you'll have new appreciation not only for Fielder but for Maria Callas and Lily Pons. Not to mention discovering Ruth Slenczynka, Ivan Davis, David Korevaar and the great Grygory Ginzburg.
Refreshingly, Earl describes his past vividly but he doesn't live there. Plenty of current pianists are discussed, admired and ...well, read the book . Remember that Earl Wild was active as a pianist at the highest level past his ninetieth birthday.

The book is long on minutia-though the Chapter Banging is for the Bedroom is a must for any serious music student. I know, I know. Read it anyway.

Earls talent seems to have come easily to him . One never gets the sense of struggle or torturous work during his quick ascent to fame. But work he did, and it was joyful work. Earl Wild stayed famous for eighty years for his musicianship. This artist fully exploited his great gifts, he had fun and he was fun. This book is a box of fudge for any music lover. Irresistible. At the last, A Walk on the Wild Side has me reaching for Earl's many recordings, and brings me back to music.

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