Big Friday sale

Jennings '67 by Richard Kaufman

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1997)


Jennings '67

Of the handful of the most visible Vernon disciples, it's probably fair to say that none was as prolific an inventor, both of sleights and routines, than Larry Jennings. Although he published a great deal of material in journals, lecture notes and pamphlets, along with two major books written by Mike Maxwell, for the past several years Messrs. Jennings and Kaufman were preparing what is intended as a trilogy of mostly unpublished material. Jennings was fiercely creative late in his life, aggressively maintaining his gloriously obsessive output up until the veritable end, and so there remains a wealth of recent material still to be released, but there is also a quantity of recorded but unreleased work that reaches far back in Jennings's life in magic, to his very earliest days in Los Angeles and his active engagement with his mentor, Dai Vernon. The recent untimely if not entirely surprising death of Larry Jennings unfortunately robbed this modern card master of the opportunity to see this book, the first of the trilogy, achieve final production.

There are approximately seventy entries here (depending on how and what you count) presented in nine sections. The opening segment, titled Easy Does It, Mr. Jennings (a play on the title of the second volume in the trilogy, Mr. Jennings Takes It Easy, to be released later this year), includes Monarch's Quartette, a strong trick with some very interesting methodology, and introduces the practice, continued throughout the text, of providing multiple versions of some routines, including in some cases previously unpublished approaches by both Vernon as well as Jennings. This initial segment is intended to provide material that is not overly challenging technically; while this does mean that there are some sleight-free items to be found here, there are also tricks that require Double Buckles, Top Changes, stud Double-Lifts and the like, so make no mistake: this is a book for the intermediate student and beyond, not for beginners.

The next section provides nine sleights that are used throughout the text. This is apparently the absolute minimum that the author felt was necessary to make this volume serviceable to most students, as the above-mentioned second installment of the trilogy, which will also include a variety of Mr. Jennings' simpler tricks, will apparently contain a heavy focus on sleights and technical finesse. The brief sleight section here includes two Jennings handlings for what is being called the Immediate Bottom Placement, which has become known in Marlovian circles as the Convincing Control and more widely as the Spread Cull Control (as inspired by the Hofzinser Spread Cull). Mr. Kaufman makes a case that these modern techniques, also explored by Ed Marlo, Frank Simon, Alan Ackerman and others, were essentially developed by Mr. Jennings, and that hence the creator's terminology should become the standard nomenclature. Credits and terminology aside, there are some excellent handlings here that deserve investigation by all students of card magic. Years ago, when I had already incorporated a variety of these kinds of sleights into my technical repertoire, I was stunned when I first saw Larry Jennings execute his versions; the speed, invisibility and naturalness of his handling immediately sent me back to the practice table and altered my own approach forever.

One thing that Larry Jennings is known for having are (sic) titanic balls. Immense, fearless orbs of strength. He is like Derek Dingle in that respect: they will try anything.—Richard Kaufman, Jennings '67

The next segment, Experiments with the Gambler's Cop, presents a handful of tricks which exploit this, one of Mr. Jennings's favorite sleights. Students may be frustrated to learn that we must wait for the second volume for a detailed exploration of Mr. Jennings's technical approaches to the sleight itself. The next segment contains a series of non-gaffed approaches to the Princess Card Trick, including versions by both Jennings and Vernon, as well as collaborations between them, and one to which noted cardician William Goodwin has also contributed. It may worth considering whether any of these admittedly interesting exercises surpass the version of the classic gaffed method that Mr. Jennings released in collaboration with Cordon Bean, marketed as the Limited Edition. The next two sections of the book present a wide variety of items, including Jennings variants of some of his own notable material, like a variation of his version of the Color-Changing Deck known as Transmutation, along with those of other creators, including Ron Wilson's Highland Hop, Vernon's Triumph and Seven Card Monte, and more.

The next chapter, Evolution of a Classic Routine: "Invisible Palm Aces" comprises a 47- page case study of how Jennings's work evolved concerning one of his most famously favorite routines, indeed one of the most widely recognized and magical card routines of the second half of the twentieth century, popularly known in some circles as the Open Travellers. Mr. Kaufman opens this segment with the statement that "Nothing could be more fascinating to me than understanding how great card magic is created." Whether or not the reader shares this sentiment will likely determine if he or she enjoys this hunk as much as I did, but one would be hard pressed to find a better learning tool in the literature of card magic than this material. If you are merely hunting for tricks to do then you may not find much to your taste here—until you turn to the final version, the most complete and accurate description we have of Jennings's best handling, which also includes his closely guarded and brilliantly clean opening sequence.

If you enjoy the study of card magic, and if you want to learn what it means to think deeply about method and construction, what it means to experiment with approaches and cancel methods and, ultimately, how method affects effect, then this material comprises a post-graduate course. Too, if you have never quite understood the importance of or fascination with detailed and accurate crediting, you might finally grasp that insight within this material, not only in the detailed accounting of the evolution of a card trick, but from the author's opening credit salvo, in which he lays out a painstakingly detailed claim of territory, planting the flag in Jennings's name for the overwhelmingly important advances in this plot, and naming names in the process. On the other hand, the case is presented as a fait accompli rather than as a dispassionate weighing of counterclaims; in fact, responses are already circulating through the underground, and history's judgment remains as yet far from being fully and finally rendered. My own lingering questions rest with wondering how Mr. Kaufman intends to address in subsequent volumes the instances in which Mr. Jennings mystifyingly, unfortunately, but nevertheless undeniably strayed on the credit front himself in the course of his lifetime.

This is a somewhat odd book. For those of us who are impassioned students of card magic, who came of cardicianship age in the '60s and '70s and perhaps early '80s and who devoured the pages of Epilogue and Hierophant [page 454] and Richard's Almanac and anything attached to the name of Dingle, much of the general subject matter of this book will be very old news: Are we really ready to go back and review yet another version of Pineapple Twist? Some will consider that a detriment; others will consider the opportunity to study Jennings's personal take on that material to be a grand opportunity to revisit favorite themes. Some will no doubt find the historic and evolutionary material to be tiresome diversions, much less the multiple variants, some decidedly inferior to those already published here and elsewhere. In such cases we are exhorted by the author to stay tuned for bigger and better things in the two volumes to come: the second in 1998 concerned with sleights and technical finesses, perhaps Jennings's greatest forte, along with relatively simple tricks; the third, Mr. Jennings Takes It Tough, expected in 1999, describing his more technically challenging material, about which we can only cringe in terror even as we quiver with anticipation (one trusts the material will likely be superior to the unfortunate titles). I imagine that the author/publisher must have struggled to decide which volume should have been released first, and while it sounds to me like the second might have been a bit more accessible than this one, it still remains a difficult choice to second guess. What need not be second-guessed however is the fabulous array of illustrations by Earle Oakes, nor the excellent prose by the author. This is some of Mr. Kaufman's finest writing to date, and certainly in recent years; not only are his descriptions detailed and clear, but he is willing to dally on theoretical turf in ways that he has often been loathe to in the past. Also, his affection for Mr. Jennings and passion for the material comes through more clearly than in almost any of his previous works save the Dingle collection, and that helps to keep the book vibrant and alive. All told, for reasons already addressed, I cannot in all honesty predict that every student will fall in love with this book, but I do recommend it; even those merely in search of good tricks will certainly find their share here, all the better (by my reckoning) enhanced by a sincere attempt to communicate a creator's distinctive vision.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound with dustjacket; 253 pages; illustrated with 395 line drawings plus several photographs; 1997; Publisher: Kaufman & Company

Buy Jennings '67 now