by Rafi Zabor
W.W. Norton & Company
Okay, the concept of a talking bear is nothing new. In fact we've had plenty of them - Pooh, Baloo, Smokey, Fozzie, Yogi. But while Yogi may have been "smarter than the average bear", the hero of Rafi Zabor's novel is actually smarter than the average human. The Bear (that's his whole name, no cutesy monikers here) thinks about "archetypes", talks to himself in German, thinks to himself in Latin and does bits from Marx Brothers movies. What does all this have to do with jazz? Well, The Bear also happens to play a mean alto sax.
When we first meet The Bear he's doing typical circus bear street performances in Manhattan with a human partner - Jones - the only person who knows about The Bear's true nature and gifts. After hours The Bear slinks through the dark night in hat and trenchcoat to jam with the likes of the Art Ensemble and Hilton Ruiz. Before long he's written up in the Village Voice, is recorded for a live album and takes a band on the road in support of a second in-studio album.
I won't reveal too much more. But just to whet your appetite, here's some of who and what you'll find in The Bear Comes Home.... Charlie Haden, ursine-human sex, the pros and cons of Wynton, Billy Hart, record company politics, a very interesting discussion between The Bear and Ornette Coleman and lots of good humor.
Rafi Zabor, himself a jazz drummer, does a great job of capturing the kind of doubts that plague the creative artist as well as the immense pleasure when a band finally jells. I strongly advise you to pick up on The Bear Comes Home.
The Bear Comes Home, by Rafi Zabor, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1998, 482 pp. Paperback $15.00 USA, $20.99 Canada.
Copyright 1999, Bob Jacobson. Bob Jacobson is a social worker, free lance writer and jazz musician in Baltimore.