Ricky Jay gives the lowdown on poker and card culture
I genuflect before the greatness that is Ricky Jay.
COURTESY OCTONE / LEGACY
"Ricky Jay Plays Poker"
His sleight-of-hand work always leaves me dumbfounded. His easy stage patter is second to none. His dexterous skills are such that he was consultant to two recent films that involved magic, "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist." Jay is also a true scholar and historian. He's a friend of one of my favorite playwrights, David Mamet. Jay's substantial presence helps make him a solid actor in film and television.
And the man puts together a mighty fine collection of songs, all around the theme of gambling. The recent release of the deluxe edition of "Ricky Jay Plays Poker" includes a 21-song CD; a booklet of song annotations, learned essays and historical illustrations from his personal collection; an all-too-brief DVD of his amazing close-hand work that also includes a neat little promo clip for Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" album; and, of course, a sealed deck of cards.
The title is a bit of a misnomer because, despite the current rage surrounding No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, Jay refuses to play in celebrity matches. "In my grandfather's words," he writes in the booklet, "if I win they'll think I'm cheating and if I lose they'll think I'm a bad magician."
But his manipulation of a deck of cards is a wonder to behold, as seen on the DVD as he demonstrates such tricks as the guarantee and the bottom deal.
The songs he's collected are yarns of card hustlers and rapscallions. With the curious exception of a selection from British dance act Saint Etienne that includes a bit of sampled dialogue from Mamet's "House of Games," the music is from the 1930s through '60s, ranging from folk, country, blues and even a Broadway show tune. All in all, a great package.