by Michael Skinner
One of my favorite jazz piano players is a fellow named Dave McKenna. I admire him for several reasons: he has an extraordinary technique; he has a remarkable "touch" on the instrument, which allows him to bring out individual lines when he plays; he swings as hard as anybody on earth, but can also play ballads with great sensitivity; and he has an enormous repertoire. It is the depth of repertoire that really blows me away, for these are not just tunes that McKenna knows of, these are tunes he knows; he's worked them out, and he knows all the right chord changes. I mention all this, because if there is a magical equivalent to Dave McKenna, it is Michael Skinner, resident magician at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, sleight-of-hand virtuoso, and possessor of the largest working repertoire in magic.
Over the years, a few of Michael's routines have trickled out in small manuscripts, but this is the first large, hardbound collection of his work. It is not, unfortunately, the big, definitive Skinner collection that many of us have been hoping for, but considering that the book contains 26 exceptional routines from Michael's professional repertoire, it will do for now. (And when exactly, can we expect that big book, Michael?) The majority of the routines are card effects, reflecting Michael's passion for magic with the pasteboards, and the skill level ranges from routines which require little technical ability to those which demand advanced card handling ability.
The book begins with two very interesting essays. The first, by Michael, offers several useful suggestions for the close-up magician. Of particular interest is Michael's ploy for performing "magician fooler" effects for lay audiences. Following this is a profile of Michael by William Murray. Mr. Murray has done a fine job in capturing in words a Michael Skinner performance. In addition, biographical information is included, and, if you pay careful attention, you will learn Michael's presentations for several classic effects.
Michael is devoted to the classic effects of magic, and is constantly striving to discover ways in which the classics can be "modernized" without losing the elements which make the routines "classic." You will discover the results of his work in such routines as "The Conus Aces," "Oil & Water Rides Again," "A Deeper Mystery," "Skinning the Fat Off the Bone.. .Nate Leipzig's Slap Aces," "The Schoolboy Trick," "Top and Bottom Blackstone," and "Rouge et Noir." All of these are worth your serious consideration.
A few of my other favorite card effects in the book are: "The Business on the Business Card Prediction," which is an ultra-slick (and fairly difficult) handling of a Bill Simon effect; "For Lovers Only," a charming card in wallet effect using business cards; "Knocking out the Aces," a flourishy way to produce the four aces; and "Aces Out of Another Dimension," a truly remarkable production of the Aces and Kings. (You may want to check out Jim Swain's Miracles with Cards for an important tip which places this trick within the realm of the average card handler.)
The non-card items include: "Taking Our Lumps," which utilizes the James Nuzzo "Hung Card" principle in an off beat way; "Did You Wash Behind Your Ears?" a charming trick to do for a child; "The Trash Compactor," Michael's wonderful handling of R. C. Bluff's "Paper Napkin Vanish"; and the "Torn and Restored Soda Straw Wrapper," a routine which is one the highlights of Michael's lecture.
The above routines are all terrific, and if this was all you were getting, this book would be a bargain, but there's more. Whenever I read a book by a working pro, I look for the information that's hidden between the lines - the hints, suggestions, and tips that are casually tossed off in a few words. There's a bunch of them in this book. Read carefully, and think about what you're reading. You'll discover information about routining, setting up, getting ahead, and getting out. And I'm not going to give you any more help than that.
Anne White is responsible for the excellent photographs which accompany the routines, and the production values of the book are top-notch. Classic Sampler is a "must-buy" for all close-up magicians. Someday, the big Skinner book will come along, but until then you can enjoy a small sample of the world-class magic of Michael Skinner, consummate professional, and one of the nicest people in magic. Highly recommended.
Dai Vernon's Inner Card Trilogy by Lewis Ganson
So, what can you say about a classic? The three volumes of the Vernon Inner Secrets of Card Magic series appeared annually, from 1959 to 1961. The series was the first explanation of many of the Professor's pet routines and techniques, and the information came as a revelation. L&L Publishing has reprinted the series in a handsome volume which matches the format of the other books in their "Vernon" series. The photographs have been re-screened and they look great, and the size of the type has been enlarged (at least it's bigger than the type in the combined volume I got from Unique Magic Studio when I was a kid). And the material? Well, the material is classic.
If this were the only book of card magic that you owned, you would have enough grade A material to last the rest of your life. Routines such as "Four of a Kind," "Matching the Cards," "The Pack that Cuts Itself," "Twisting the Aces," "Oil and Water," "McDonald's $100 Ace Routine," "The Cards to Pocket," "The Trick that Cannot Be Explained," "The Four Blue Backed Aces," "Larry Grey's Cards Across," "Three Card Monte," and "The Card Puzzle." These are routines which have found their way into the repertoires of every good close-up magician in the world.
But the routines are only a small part of these books. A substantial portion of the text is devoted to Vernon's handlings for various card sleights. Here you will find nine different methods for the Color Change, five methods for forcing cards, explanations of the Push-off Count and the Buckle count, and seven different types of crimp work. Vernon's work on palming, second dealing and top and bottom changes are detailed. And there is a remarkable chapter concerning riffle shuffle work.
There's not much more to say. If you're a card guy (or you ever hope to be a card guy), this book needs to be a part of your basic library. It's a classic, and I'm delighted that L&L has reprinted it in such a nice format. Buy it. Period. Aloha.
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