And Then There Were Two

Trombonist Curtis Fuller passed away on May 8. The New York Times posted this remembrance.

Here is my memory of the jazz great.

In 2002, Curtis Fuller appeared at the Iowa City Jazz Festival as a part of “Legends of the Bandstand,” with Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond, Louis Hayes, and David “Fathead” Newman. One by one, we have lost these legends, except Drummond and Hayes.

As I was preparing to introduce the group, Curtis comes up to me and asks “You know how to introduce a jazz band, right?”

A little non-plussed, I asked him what he meant. He then explained that the proper etiquette was to introduce the front line, then the rhythm section. He may have even specified Sax, Trumpet, Trombone, Piano, Bass, Drums, although I don’t specifically recall that part.

Regardless, I followed his instructions and to this day, when I introduce a jazz band, that’s the order I use. And each time, I thank Curtis Fuller for making sure I knew how to do the job.

Back in Amber

To say that Roger Zelazny’s Amber books were an influence on me is like saying Donald Trump doesn’t care to admit when he’s wrong.

Nine Princes in Amber original cover
The original Doubleday 1st edition. Quite rare these days, but definitely the one I picked off the shelves of the Council Bluffs Public Library.

I’ve just completed what has become an annual winter tradition: a re-read/re-listen to all ten books, usually while shoveling snow and hanging Christmas lights.

“Nine Princes in Amber” was published in 1970. I probably stumbled on it in 1973 or 1974, which means I’ve read the series something on the order of thirty times. It is the single greatest influence on “Traveler,” both in its sardonic, first-person narrative style, and overall theme. Trav’s mental process of moving between reality streams is a direct descendant of Corwin’s hellrides through Shadow. 

A rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin's colors are black and silver. Geez.
This cover is a rare stumble by the great artist Boris Vallejo. Everyone knows Corwin’s colors are black and silver. Geez.

But it’s the collected set of all five of the “Corwin Cycle” of Amber stories in the two volumes with the bad cover that’s the one that I have read again and again So many times that I wore out the dust jackets and have purchased backup copies (In addition to all ten audiobooks. More about that in a minute).

When the third book in the series, “Sign of the Unicorn,” was serialized in Galaxy magazine, it even got me into trouble with my mom. An installment arrived at the same time as her brother, on a rare visit from the West Coast. I was way too distracted to hold up my end of the conversation.

The one and only cosplay in my entire life? You guessed it. Corwin of Amber, complete with a silver rose clasp on my cloak.

The second set of five books, featuring Corwin’s son Merlin, aren’t quite as strong. But I’ve come to appreciate them a little more in recent re-reads. Might be partly nostalgia.

But let’s not talk about the estate-authorized prequels, written after Zelazny’s death, and against his oft-expressed wishes. All that’s missing is Jar-Jar.

I turned my son Alex on to the series pretty much as soon as he graduated from picture books, and thoroughly indoctrinated him. It was Alex who cottoned on to the audiobooks and recommended I take a listen. It was like reading them for the first time all over again.

The narrator, Alessandro Juliani, best known as Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica, is fabulous. If there was an Academy Award for book narration, he should win it hands-down. He gives each of the nine princes their own identity, and captures Corwin perfectly. Wil Wheaton takes over for the Merlin cycle, and does a more than adequate job, even if he’s not Juliani’s equal. Although Wil’s pronunciation of one character’s name JEHR-ard is grating. Plain-spoken Gerard would never have been so ostentatious.

The only downside is paying full price for each book. All ten hardly add up to even one Game of Thrones! This is great for Audible. For me, not so much. But I will consider it an investment in their ongoing effort to record classic sci-fi.

I often say that one of the nice things about getting older is that you can re-read your favorite books again and again, blissfully surprised by the plot twists you’ve forgotten.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get another twenty or so trips to Amber in before I embark on my own journey to Shadow.

Parallel Universe, Real World

The History Center of Cedar Rapids recently invited me to do a live-streamed author event. Afterward, I edited out some long pauses and fixed other “live broadcast bumps” in the presentation. It was fun doing a reading that incorporated visuals and even a video of the climactic chase scene in Traitor.

It’s only about 20 minutes long. Check out the link below.

The Entire Traveler Saga In One Binge-able Pack!

Need a quarantine holiday binge? Or a last-minute gift you don’t have to ship? The Traveler Trilogy is now available as a Kindle box set.

All three Traveler books, Traveler, Prisoner, and Traitor, in one discounted ebook, just $9.99.

Traveler: Meet Trav Becker, a down-on-his-luck ex-cop who must hunt a deranged parallel version of himself bent on killing every Trav Becker in the multiverse.

Prisoner: Trav races against time to rescue two kidnapped girls, even as he is drawn into a hidden war whose stakes are the very existence of him and his friends.

Traitor: Trav must battle foes on every side, including his own memory, and seek help from the unlikeliest of allies, to reunite with the woman he loves and prevent the looming collapse of reality itself.

Includes the Traveler short, “The Diner,” in print for the very first time!

Click here to get yours today!

I’m Sure He’s a Jazz Legend… In France

KCCK is posting staff Halloween favorites each day leading up to Oct. 31. Here’s mine.


The first time I ever heard “That Old Black Magic” was when it was performed by that legendary jazz singer… Jerry Lewis.

In the original “Nutty Professor,” Lewis (as his suave Hyde-persona Buddy Love) sings a quite serviceable version of the tune. In the years since, of course, I’ve come to see where Jerry borrowed from Sinatra, Ella, and even his frenemy Dean Martin for this performance.

But even though Lewis owes A LOT to artists with a more extensive pedigree, this version still swings.

Pandemic on the Brain

Today, I had the honor of notifying my friend Jim Dreier that he is the 2020 inductee into the Iowa Jazz Educators Hall of Fame, the highest honor a jazz educator in Iowa can receive.
 
I hope the gravitas of this honor is not be diminished by the typo in the notification.
 
We will make sure that Jim’s PLAQUE is sanitized and safe to be handled.
Plaque, not Plague