[JPL] A gift from a godmother of jazz

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Sun Jan 18 16:49:35 EST 2009


A gift from a godmother of jazz
By Mark Feeney  |  January 18, 2009
An Intimate Look at Jazz Giants
Compiled and photographed by
Pannonica de Koenigswarter
Abrams Image, 317 pp.,
illustrated, paperback, $19.95

If jazz were Oz, Pannonica de Koenigswarter (1913-88) would be its Glinda
the Good. She was the Jazz Baroness, a Rothschild heiress who was drawn to
America after World War II by her love of the music. One look at the
back-endpapers photograph of "Three Wishes," which shows her joyfully gazing
at the pianist Teddy Wilson, and it's not hard to see why she crossed the

Pannonica was a magical figure, gliding through Manhattan in a silver
Bentley as she made the rounds from club to club. Wherever she lived became
an open-door jazz salon. It was in her New York apartment that Charlie
Parker died in 1952. Thirty years later, Thelonious Monk died in her
Weehawken, N.J., house. Monk dubbed it the Cathouse, even more for the
musicians who flocked there than the 122 felines Pannonica owned.

Monk, who lived there during his final, near-catatonic decade, wrote what
may be his most beautiful tune, "Pannonica," in tribute to her. Numerous
other musicians named songs for her: Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream," Gigi
Gryce's "Nica's Tempo," Sonny Clark's "Nica," and so on.

How could jazz musicians not feel gratitude toward Pannonica? She was the
perfect hostess, as well as the ultimate fan, asking only one thing of her
guests: that they tell her their three wishes in life. Some 300 musicians

Those answers, along with more than 200 candid photographs - most of them
taken by Pannonica - make up "Three Wishes." It may be as close to a jazz
family album as we'll ever see. It has the same sense of spontaneity and
casualness, affection and unexpectedness, found in a family album. How
unexpected? We see Monk playing ping-pong. Hank Mobley nods off at a lunch
counter. Sonny Rollins wears a cowboy hat. Max Roach switches from drums to
tickle the Cathouse ivories.

Then there's the matter of those three wishes. They tend to center on four
concerns. They are, in order of frequency, money (more), music (better),
family (healthier, happier), and sex (more and better). There are also
variations on those themes. Al Haig, speaking by telephone, told the
baroness, "Coitus! Hurry over to the Algonquin and I'll tell you what two
and three are."

But they aren't limited to just those categories. "To be white!" Miles Davis
said. Zoot Sims sought both "peace of mind" and "piece of ground." Perhaps
he would have been better off dueting with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis instead of
Al Cohn. Jaws wanted to be a booking agent, go into politics, and enter into
real estate. Percy Heath was more travel agent than realtor. He wanted to go
to another planet, "find something to do when I get there," and "know how to
get back."

More than anything else, perhaps, getting back is what "Three Wishes" is
about: getting back to a time when jazz was its own milieu, self-contained
yet still of interest to a considerable portion of the general public. No
longer mainstream (what milieu is?) but not a coterie either. It's a world
where most of its inhabitants know and admire the others, and the outside
world pays at least some attention, too. The thing about "Three Wishes" is
how it grants a wish itself: bringing back that world, and with such
vividness and love.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney at globe.com.

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