[JPL] The Jazz Baroness

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed May 13 21:39:07 EDT 2009


      Posted: Tue., May 12, 2009, 12:52pm PT

  The Jazz Baroness

*/ /*
(Documentary) A Clandestine Films presentation in association with BBC 
Storyville. Produced by Hannah Rothschild. Executive producers, Nick 
Fraser, Anthony Wall. Co-producer, Bruce Ricker. Directed, written by 
Hannah Rothschild.
Voice of Nica - Helen Mirren
Young Nica - Clemency Brookfield

      By JOHN ANDERSON </index.asp?layout=bio&peopleID=2792>

*The roguish charms of the black sheep are proportionate to the 
prominence of its family, so "The Jazz Baroness" would seem to be a few 
legs up already -- and issues of black and white are precisely what it's 
about. Profiling her notorious great-aunt and her unlikely relationship 
with jazz genius Thelonious Monk, helmer Hannah Rothschild also tackles 
her whole legendary banking family, ultimately biting off too much for 
one movie. But the story is a fascinating one, and Monk a source of 
endless musical joy. TV is assured; theatrical seems less 
likely.Pannonica de Koenigswarter, nee Rothschild -- the namesake of one 
of Monk's most famous and beautiful pieces ("Pannonica") -- grew up amid 
opulence as a member of one of Europe's wealthiest families: She was 
educated in Paris and was the granddaughter of Britain's first Jewish 
MP. Monk was, as critic Stanley Crouch puts it, "a country Negro," born 
in North Carolina and raised in New York, his musical genius leading him 
into a life of art and poverty. But when Rothschild heard Monk's "Round 
Midnight" while in New York, she listened to it 20 more times and then 
canceled her trip back home. They eventually met and struck up a 
friendship; she became a patron of jazz, and Monk spent the last 10 
years of his life living in her house across the Hudson in New Jersey. *

*Much of what helmer Rothschild says about Monk's life has already been 
said in Charlotte Zwerin's exceptional "Straight No Chaser" (1988). 
Rothschild seems more interested in her great-aunt's life (whether the 
viewer will be is another issue) and what motivated Nica's passion for 
jazz, her devotion to its practitioners and her willingness to be 
scorned for her friendships with black men (she and her times were not 
in synch). When Charlie Parker died in her apartment at the Stanhope 
hotel in 1955, the tabloids vilified her. *

*The particular closeness between Pannonica and Monk is the subject at 
hand, though, and besides a love of jazz, they also share a heritage of 
mental illness. Nica's father committed suicide; Monk's father spent the 
last two decades of his life in an asylum. Monk himself was beset by 
periods of instability and depression, and despite the film's insistence 
that the two did not have a consummated love affair, Monk's survival 
depended very much on Nica. *

*Some of the helmer's musings in voiceover seem forced, or random. "The 
Jazz Baroness" would have provided a more coherent account of a truly 
unusual romance had Helen Mirren -- who assumes Pannonica's identity as 
she reads from the jazz patron's letters -- been the only voice we hear 
along with Monk's (and, more importantly, his playing). *

*Production values are good, with a few rare bits of archival Monk. 
*With:* T.S. Monk Jr., Sonny Rollins, Jacob Rothschild, Quincy Jones, 
Chico Hamilton, Archie Shepp.
Camera (color/B&W), Rothschild; editor, Guy Crossman; sound, Hugh 
Mitchell-Dawson; assistant producer, Walter Stabb. Reviewed at Hot Docs 
Film Festival (World Showcase), Toronto, May 7, 2009. Running time: 83 MIN.

*Read the full article at:

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