Archive for Pannonica de Koenigswarter

The Unique Melodious Thunk

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on 5 July, 2009 by Ally
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

The listener’s relationship with Thelonious Monk seems to follow a common pattern — years of puzzled indifference, then an epiphany followed by ever-increasing affection and devotion. So it was with me.

A few years ago I bought my first Monk album, but it left me cold so I left it languishing on the shelf. Skip to earlier this year, when BBC Four broadcast a documentary about Monk’s friend and patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. The story intrigued me, and for the first time I found myself moved by Monk’s music. I had to hear it again. And again. Mere months later I’m gradually running out of Monk albums to buy. It has become an addiction.

But what can I add to the discussion? I’m late to the party by 50 years. Critics and fans have already waxed lyrical about his unconventional straight-fingered piano playing, his goofy syncopated rhythms, his beautiful melodic ideas and his enigmatic personality. I can but add myself to the list of admirers, and hope that my enthusiasm will inspire others to give themselves the second, third or fourth chance it might take to unlock this musical treasure.

Blue Monk (1958)

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on 12 May, 2009 by Ally

Three Wishes by Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Until recently, my knowledge about Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (née Rothschild) was extremely limited. Born to a reknowned English banking family, Nica was compelled to move to New York City in the 1950s after hearing Thelonious Monk’s haunting tune ‘Round Midnight. She became a great patron of jazz, befriending legendary figures like Charlie Parker (who died in her house) and Thelonious Monk (who wrote another haunting tune in her honour). She became known as the Jazz Baroness.

Last month BBC4 screened a documentary entitled The Jazz Baroness. Written and directed by her great-niece Hannah Rothschild, it told the tale of Nica’s eventful life, her importance on the jazz scene from the ’50s onwards and the strong bond she shared with Monk. The programme also sparked my interest in Monk’s music, which had previously eluded me. I have since bought and assimilated many of his wonderful recordings, and allowed Monk into my heart.

Thelonious and Nica

Thelonious and Nica

So when I discovered Nica wrote a book, I had to read it immediately. And I did. It arrived today and I’ve finished it already. Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats is the product of Nica’s passion for jazz. Over the years she asked hundreds of musicians what their three wishes would be, eventually compiling them into a book (accompanied by blurry and decaying polaroid snaps). Answers range from the predictable stock answers of “world peace” and “money” to touching, hilarious and occasionally embarrassing admissions. John Coltrane wishes for “three times the sexual power I have now,” Art Blakey wishes for a divorce so he could marry Nica and Miles Davis bitterly quips that his only wish is “to be white!” But perhaps the most beautifully-expressed sentiment is from legendary drummer Louie Bellson:

3. “I am hoping that music will mend the entire world. It has been proven that our relations with other countries has been one hundred percent pure in friendship because of music. I feel that music will blossom into a flower, and that flower will express one great thought, and that is: We belong to the human race and we all learn the same notes.”

– Louie Bellson