Wheat Award, Historical Society of Southern California, 2003, for best essay published on Los Angeles history.
Hollywood Rhapsody: Movie Music and Its Makers, 1900 to 1975, Schirmer Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Stagebill, Performing Arts, Theatre Week, Film Score Monthly, and American Theatre.
Gary Marmorstein's first book, Hollywood Rhapsody: Movie Music and Its Makers, 1900 to 1975, provides a detailed look at the role music has played in American movies throughout their history. The author examines everything from the piano accompaniments that were played along with silent movies, to the rock soundtracks of modern films. He discusses the use of music in animated films, looks at the great musicals that were produced in the mid-twentieth century, and writes about those composers whose special talent was writing film soundtracks, as well as the respected classical composers who sometimes lent their skills to film as well. Hollywood Rhapsody is "exhaustive and brightly written," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
In The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, Marmorstein offers an extremely in-depth history of Columbia Records, one of the world's oldest and most influential recording companies. The firm got its start in 1889 in the District of Columbia, and was known then as the Columbia Phonograph Company. It originally functioned as a vendor and distributor for Edison phonographs and the wax cylinders these phonographs used to play music. In 1897, the company moved its headquarters to New York City. Wax cylinders gave way to 78 rotations per minute (rpm) records; then, in 1948, Columbia introduced the LP or long-playing record album. This would prove crucial to the company's fortunes, and Marmorstein "is at his best in an expansive telling of the stealth creation and marketing" of the LP, according to Richard Harrington in the Washington Post Book World. The popularity of the LP sent Columbia to the top of the recording industry, where it has remained even into the age of digital, downloadable music.
During that time, many of the most popular and talented musicians in the world had signed with the Columbia label, including Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Mitch Miller, and Frank Sinatra. Almost every genre of music was offered by Columbia, including jazz, Broadway tunes, country, rock, and rhythm and blues. Jazz was particularly important to the label, with seminal artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Bessie Smith recording for Columbia. The company was slow to embrace rock music, but once it did, it signed numerous influential musicians and bands. Innovative marketing techniques, such as the mail-order Columbia Record Club, boosted the company's sales substantially throughout the years, and spread its influence throughout the United States. Harrington stated: "The author, who seems most comfortable dealing with label history from the 1940s through the '60s, is strong at recounting Columbia's pioneering of album cover art, its technological advances and assorted trademark, copyright and patent wars."
Marmorstein's attention to detail in this book "may be either good or bad for readers," depending on how much they really want to know about Columbia Records and its artists and producers, commented Mike Tribby in his Booklist review. John Rockwell, the reviewer for the New York Times, felt that the author was at times overwhelmed with the wealth of material and people that he had to write about. He called the book disorganized in parts and, at times, inaccurate in some of its facts. Still, Rockwell stated that The Label "tells an epic tale, full of the requisite clashing egos in the executive suite and (figurative) blood on the boardroom floor, with some of the great music of our time as underscoring." Rockwell further noted that "Marmorstein refers to the great social and cultural shifts of the 20th century and to the poetic musings of Evan Eisenberg and others on phonography, the deeper philosophical study of recorded sound. But his real interest lies in chatty anecdotes" about the people who made up the world of Columbia records. The result is a "sometimes charming string of stories and thumbnail sketches, funny or outrageous or moving."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of The Label: The Story of Columbia Records, p. 51.
Choice, December, 1998, review of Hollywood Rhapsody: Movie Music and Its Makers, 1900 to 1975, p. 697.
Library Journal, February 1, 2007, James E. Perone, review of The Label, p. 74.
New York Times, April 8, 2007, John Rockwell, review of The Label.
Publishers Weekly, December 8, 1997, review of Hollywood Rhapsody, p. 67.
Washington Post Book World, April 29, 2007, Richard Harrington, review of The Label, p. 5.