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by Rafi Zabor

Pub Date: July 21st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04037-2
Publisher: Norton

 Bewilderingly brilliant, frequently frustrating, archly hip debut about a mystically inclined, talking, alto sax-playing bear and the cruel, loving, or merely befuddled Manhattanites who ultimately help him achieve jazz satori. Taking more from Kafka than Disney, Zabor, a jazz drummer and music journalist, introduces us to the unusually gifted Bear, who is suffering the existential angst that comes from dancing and passing the hat on Manhattan's mean streets. One night Bear dons a raincoat and a dark hat, packs up his alto, and sneaks into a jazz club, where he jams with Lester Bowie and Art Blythe, who, like most human inhabitants of the cool, cynical, pearls-before-swine jazz world that Zabor knows so well, are more impressed with Bear's extraordinary sax chops than the fact that he's a bear that talks. Even Ornette Coleman is impressed, launching into a priceless speculation about the virtues of ``quadrupedal tone'' versus ``two-footed music.'' A subsequent club date, destined to become Bear's first album, ends in a police raid--evidently, animal acts, no matter how nonexploitative, require permits. So the Bear sits in jail, pining for fresh salmon while debating philosophy with a prison psychiatrist. Then jazz-world denizens join forces to spring Bear from jail, spiriting him off to Woodstock, where he can work on his album, ponder the mystical (but not physical--the eventual sex scenes are wonderfully gentle) impossibility of his love for a beautiful woman and prepare for his first tour. There are too many elliptical, navel-gazing meditations on mysticism, love, the imperfections of art--and on why the music business is so sleazy- -but, thankfully, there are also moments of satiric genius in Zabor's passionate portrait of an artist as a cool dude with fur. Hip, flip, sexy, and worldy-wise, with walk-ons by Charlie Haden and other jazz celebrities: a first novel that has the makings of a cult smash. (First serial to Musician)