The hero of this sensational first novel is an alto-sax virtuoso of John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins proportions. He also happens to be walking, talking, Shakespeare-quoting bear. The scion of a long line of European circus bears (and the product of an amazing roll of the genetic dice), the Bear, when we first meet him, is eking out a living doing a ...
The hero of this sensational first novel is an alto-sax virtuoso of John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins proportions. He also happens to be walking, talking, Shakespeare-quoting bear. The scion of a long line of European circus bears (and the product of an amazing roll of the genetic dice), the Bear, when we first meet him, is eking out a living doing a street dancing-bear act with his friend and keeper Jones. But what the Bear is really best at-besides making himself cosmically miserable - is blowing the sax. One day he makes a bold foray out to jam with Arthur Blythe and Lester Bowie at a New York club, thus beginning a musical (and romantic) odyssey: a semi-clandestine gig and a live album; a nightclub bust and a spell in the city's dankest jail; freedom, a recording contract, a road tour; a vexed, physically passionate, inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris. And finally, a triumphant return to a jazz club inside the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Bear plays a solo that blasts him out of the space/time continuum - and all the way back home.
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Describing a book as 'quirky' is usally a horrible thing to do, but it's apropos in this case. Rafi Zabor has created a central character - a nobly-descended bear who plays the sax, quotes Shakespeare and doesn't mind the odd drink - who's also deeply human. There's the usual furry-fish-out-of-water tales you'd expect from a book of this type (possibly similar to Bakis' Lives Of The Monster Dogs) but also an unexpectedly touching love story. Look for the appearance of jazz legends within.
Publishers Weekly, 1997-06-23 New York's coterie of jazz musicians makes room for one large addition as a talking, thinking, alto sax-playing Kodiak bear arrives on the jazz scene in this hilarious, richly imagined bear's-eye view of love, music, alienation, manhood and humanity. The Bear and his friend Jones (who won him years earlier in a poker game) have been eking out a living through a degrading street act. Tired of that depressing circus shtick, the Bear begins sitting in with Arthur Blythe at a local jazz club. In addition to Blythe, Billy Hart, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and other famous musicians become characters, and the Bear's musical ruminations bring Monk, Mingus, Parker, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Jackie McClean prominently into the novel. After an early gig gets him shot at, locked up and experimented upon, the Bear strives to avoid publicity even while touring and recording. He struggles painfully through his changing relationship with Jones, an interspecies love affair with beautiful Iris and the strange, alternately menacing and wonderful world of humans. Drummer/journalist Zabor's invocation of jazz is impressive: far more than beguiling background noise, music is a dynamic presence in this story, central to the Bear's struggle, and Zabor's renderings of its inner dramas are daring and effective. If the romantic subplot is the weakest link in this very solid chain, the Bear's convincing interactions with Jones and the jazzmen show a shambling, cartoonish wit that recalls Pynchon at his most controlled. Best of all, the mystical, wisecracking, well-read, big-hearted, restless Bear comes vividly, enchantingly to life. First serial to Musician magazine. (July)
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