Tim Price Blogging For Rico-Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter- " Nica's Dream".
It’s a misty night in 1969 in Boston, I'm standing outside the Jazz Workshop on Boylston Street waiting to go see Thelonious Monk. A silver Rolls-Royce parks right in front of the club, behind the wheel is a beautiful brunette, a chinchilla stole draped over her shoulder and a cigarette holder between her teeth. Before she turns the Rolls off she takes a long hit from a silver flask, she exits the car and down the steps into the famed " Jazz Workshop". The Jazz Baroness has arrived!
As a teenager, I read liner notes on records, and articles in Down Beat about this famed woman of jazz and there she was before my eyes. As I remember back to that week of hearing Monk every night for a week! ( Charlie Rouse put me on the guest list, that's another blog unto itself. He's one of my hero's as you might have known.)
The Jazz Baroness was raised in fairy-tale splendor, Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter (known as “Nica”) piloted her own plane across the English Channel, married a French baron, fought in the French Resistance, and had five children. Then she heard a recording of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Inspired by the liberating spirit of jazz, Nica left her family, moved to Manhattan, and began going to the city’s jazz nightclubs non stop.
The tabloids first splashed her name across the headlines after Charlie Parker died in her hotel suite—a scandal that sadly cast a dark shadow over parts her life. Press be dammed,she became a legend as the major force as a woman she was. Not only a woman that was immensely beautiful, but strong emotionally, mentally brilliant beyond words, and a complete positive force for those she cared about! What a brilliant one of a kind woman! Wow!! Nearly a score of jazz compositions have been written in her honor, including two of the most beloved classics of the genre: Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” and Monk’s “Pannonica.” Any jazz student or musician worth their salt, should know those tunes, without a lead sheet, by the way. Also some other amazing tunes written for her ;" Nicas' Tempo""by Gigi Gryce, Sonny Clark- " Nica", Kenny Dorham " Tonica", Freddy Redd " Nica Steps Out", Kenny Drew " Blues For Nica". One of her abstract paintings was even used as the cover art for Bud Powell’s 1961 album " A Portrait Of Thelonious" - That Bud Powell recording might be one of the greatest Monk tributes I ever heard.
As an avid fan of 1950s jazz, I had read about "the Jazz Baronness," Pannonica de Koenigswarter, an heir to the Rothschild fortune, in numerous articles and books about the people who populated the New York jazz scene in those days. When I read about the publication of "Nica's Dream," the first book-length biography devoted this patron of modern jazz, I downloaded the book to my Kindle and looked forward to a great read. Having finished it yesterday, I have to say I am so inspired by this book. I am going to buy the hard copy too.
This is a must read! There are some genuinely interesting episodes and adventures as well as touching anecdotes that demonstrate her genuine affection and esteem for the many great musicians she befriended. But it is that very episodic quality, which continues throughout the book, that ultimately makes it an interesting read rather than a great one.
In this book, " Nica's Dream" author David Kastin has spent the last few years immersed in the world of "Nica" - as those who knew her well referred to the jazz baroness. His biography is beautifully written, endlessly fascinating.
It is Nica's connections to the jazz world - to sax legend Parker, to the fabled keyboardist and composer Monk, to Art Blakey, to Bud Powell, to a veritable Who's Who of bebop and modern jazz players - that drew Kastin to his subject.
March 12, 1955, after several days of convalescence the baroness (with periodic visits from the hotel physician), Parker collapsed and died. "Bird" was 34. The tabloids went wild: "Bop King Dies in Heiress' Flat!"
At the moment she first heard a recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight" - on a 1951 visit to New York from Mexico City, where her husband, Baron Jules de Koenigswater, served as France's ambassador - Nica's life changed. "I couldn't believe my ears," she said almost 35 years later, recounting how she asked her friend, pianist Teddy Wilson, to play the record over and over and over again. "'Round Midnight' affected me like nothing else I ever heard."
Nica left her husband in Mexico and moved to New York with the oldest of their five children, a teenage daughter, Janka. They took lavish digs at the Stanhope Hotel. Nica began frequenting the jazz clubs, became friends with the promoters, the owners, the musicians. Before long, the "Jazz Baroness" - chic and sophisticated, free-thinking and free-drinking - was hosting jam sessions in her suites, sneaking the hungry, often broke, artists up the hotel's service elevator.
Soon after Parker's death, Nica was asked to leave. She found a similarly luxe living situation in a hotel on the opposite side of Central Park.
The baroness' "moveable feast" of a jazz salon resulted in more than 400 hours of annotated and archived recordings: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Lionel Hampton, Donald Byrd, Horace Silver (whose song, "Nica's Dream," Kastin took for his book's title) - they all played for Nica. It's an epic and extraordinary aural document. The "Pannonica Collection" remains in the hands of her heirs, and has, until now, been unavailable.
"Nica's Dream" would make for a great movie - although there's so much here that a miniseries might be more accommodating. But it certainly makes for a great book. Kastin has served his subject well, offering a rich and tumbling portrait of a force to be reckoned with - no dilettante or groupie or interloper, but a woman who was inspired by, and in turn inspired, many of the reigning figures of the jazz universe.
I think any author would have had difficulty with the organizational problems inherent in telling 'Nica's story. There are only so many ways you can tell the reader that she was a Rothschild, that she drove a Bentley at breakneck speeds with a cigarette holder clenched between her teeth helping musicians get to gigs or get out of trouble, and was a decent and caring human being. In this case, it is enough to make for an interesting and sometimes engaging read. a great biography.
Beyond her long cigarette holder, leopard skin coat and infamous Bentley. These objects by which she was identified were not symbols of her glamour but of her mystique, speaking not of who she was, but of the world she left behind. She made jazz a better place and she stood for something without putting a spotlight on herself !
~ You owe it to yourself to read " Nica's Dream" by David Kastin
Till next week- Tim Price
In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Pannonica de Koenigswarter, known as Nica, was a constant and benevolent presence on the thriving New York jazz scene. Known as the Jazz Baroness (she was born into the wealthy Rothschild family and later married a French aristocrat) she befriended such giants as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Barry Harris, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, and many more. She inspired over twenty jazz compositions, bailed musicians out of jail, and even acted as a booking agent.
I literally could not put this book down. It is fascinating, well-written, and immensely entertaining. It may be the best jazz "biography" I've read.
She also collected wishes. Over the course of a decade, Koenigswarter asked three hundred musicians what their three wishes in life were, jotting them all down in a notebook. At the same time she took hundreds of candid photographs, saving them all. In Three Wishes, Koenigswarter’s forays into the psyches and lives of these legendary jazz artists are made available in America for the first time. GET THIS BOOK TO DEAR BLOG READER!
Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats by-
Pannonica de Koenigswarter
Pannonica over course of a decade, collected wishes from some 300 musicians; alongside vibrant, smoky Polaroids, these wishes--though plenty go to money, health and more wishes--provide a brief glimpse into each subjects' dreams: Julian "Cannonball" Adderley wishes for a jazz artists' subsidy organization; Dinah Washington wishes for triplet girls; and Charles Mingus wishes for "enough to pay my bills, but that's absolutely all." Not everyone wishes deep: Bill Hardman wishes for "a crazy old lady". Many wished for money.
Sonny Clark wanted “all the Steinways”, Oscar Peterson wished he could “play the piano the way I want to”, while Miles Davis simply answered, “to be white”.
The person to elicit these extraordinary and intimate responses was Baroness Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter, or Nica as she was known. Friend, landlady, muse and manager to some of the greatest jazz musicians of the twentieth century, Nica remains somewhat of a mythical figure.
Her name ghosts through the jazz canon.She dedicated her life to giving musicians a voice and helping to end both the fingerprinting of nightclub musicians and the controversial ‘New York Cabaret Card’ system, an obligatory performance permit, which could be revoked on the smallest infractions. And yet, hers was also a name once tainted by association with rumour and scandal.
I encountered Nica once in Philadelphia, outside of the long gone " Grendels Lair" club on South St in 1975.
I was outside talking to Wilbur Ware after a set, that he did with Barry Harris. The club turned over and everyone had to leave. Ware was also a Monk musician, and as I was talking to him he was speaking to Nica. She was amazingly cool and friendly, for sure she was the driver for the Barry Harris band from NYC. So we are passing Nica's flask around, talking. They head back in and she said, come on follow me. She just goes past the door guy, gets me a seat at the bar right aside of the band. A better seat than I had before! She buys me a scotch, and heads back to the corner to talk to Barry and Charles McPhearson. As I passed her on the way out, I said to her thank you so much. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated it, and she smiled and said " Your very welcome". What a wonderful asset to this world she was, and what she did for music.
This world needs more people like Baroness Pannonica Rothschild