Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

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Three Wishes

I recently bought a book compiled and photographed by the one and only jazz patroness, Baroness Pannonica (often called Nica) de Koenigswarter, a member of the old-world aristocratic and fabulously wealthy Rothschild dynasty.  It’s called Three Wishes:  An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats.

The Baroness took the pictures and wrote down the wishes; the introduction is by her daugher Nadine, and the foreword is from Gary Giddins.

Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild was the daughter of Charles Rothschild and the Hungarian baroness Rozsika Edle von Wertheimstein.  She was named after a species of butterfuly her father had discovered.   She worked for Charles de Gaule during World War II.

After divorcing her husband, she moved to New York and rented a penthouse suite at the Hotel Stanhope on Fifth Avenue, which became both castle, mecca, and meeting ground of all great jazz musicians in New York City.  It wasn’t easy sneaking in the jazz artists into the segregated hotel, and her after-hours jam sessions infuriated Stanhope management.   And so she later moved across the river, buying a large house with a skyline view that was originally built for film director Josef von Sternberg. This, like the Stanhope,  became a  domicile for many of them.  She’d send out her chauffeured Bentley to pick up Monk from the Five Spot.  In Three Wishes You see Monk on the bed with her Siamese cats relaxing on his stomach.  Charlie Parker lived there (and died there too, in 1955 while watching tv).  Later Barry Harris became permanent residents.  Horace Silver and others wrote songs for her and named them after her (“Pannonica” by Monk, “Nica’s Dream” by Horace Silver, and “Nica’s Tempo by Gigi Gryce are three examples).  The photos are casual, candid, amateurish but very revealing.  Musicians could really relax chez Nica.

The Baroness made it a point to ask all jazz musicians who came to visit and play (she had grand pianos and complete drum kits, etc.) and hang out to tell her their three wishes.
She also took lots of photos. It is a book of intimate glimpses, compelling humility and absolute honesty.

In contrast to rock music, where sex, drugs, and rock and roll have often been prime motivations, and success is almost always a goal, these jazz musicians in this book had more humble goals.  For instance:

Eric Dolphy (famous multi instrumentalist and musical savant)

1.     To continue playing music all my life

2.     A home and a car in New York.  That’s all!

Wayne Shorter (sax player for Miles Davis and visionary)

1.     no more wars.  And if there are don’t call me.

2.     Everybody try to dig culture

3.     Peace on earth.  And everywhere else.  On them other planets

It is a revealing glimpse of some of our lesser-known and under-appreciated musical geniuses.  It also underscores the fact that jazz is art music, an intellectual yet soulful endeavor.  This book also shows that the motivation and effort in being a jazz musician trumps  the desire for the luxury and glamour that many big rock groups and better-known popular musicians enjoy.

All in all, it is a unique book and I recommend it highly, especially for people who like and listen to jazz music.  It is also filled with many b&w casual photos of jazz greats, all taken by Nica at her mansion,  that have never been published before.  Some of the wishes are existential; some are very funny, and most are grounded in the basic needs of everyday life.  It is a moving, witty, and moving book.

postscript:   over the past year, two books have been published celebrating the life of this eccentric and generous jazz patroness.  The most recent volume, written by Nica’s niece Hannah Rothschild, is called The Baroness and was published a few weeks ago.

Marco Werman also interviewed Hannah Rothschild on PRI’s The World Tuesday, May 29th, 2012: