THREE WISHES: AN INTIMATE LOOK AT JAZZ GREATS Pannonica de Koenigswarter (compiled/photographed) Abrams Image: 2008; NY ($19.95) – 317 pp.
This is the strangest book on jazz I’ve ever read: This is the most moving book on jazz I’ve ever read: And everything in between. Forward from Gary Giddins, Introduction from granddaughter Nadine de Koenigswarter, this is apparently an ongoing project that “Nica” worked on for decades beginning in 1961. She would ask any and all musicians she would meet for their three pet wishes: That is the main text of this book. Gary’s Forward is short and sets the scene – Nadine’s Introduction tells some of her grandmother’s life from being a Rothschild in London to being the “Jazz Baroness” in the NYC area.
In addition to the three answers, there are masses of candid photos, many from one-of-a-kind Polaroid snapshots (that are NOT Photoshopped!), that she (in the main) took herself, either at gigs or at her home (purchased on the recommendation of one T. Monk!) in Weehawken in northern NJ after being harassed at various NYC hotels back when one of means rented a suite on long-term lease as a home. It is truly an intimate look at jazz musicians, some serious, some silly, but all of-the-moment… just like the music they play. There are “names” galore (post her Bird experiences), plus people even Gary has never heard of before, the might-have-beens or never-weres of the jazz life! As Giddins poses: “But who were Sonny Nevious, Lynn Holiday, Paul Wheaton, Claude Purvis, Hyler Jones, and Tasuhiro Koyama?” – instruments unknown. A musician’s index is present at the end of the book that lists instrument(s)… when known…, a useful tool for the text. None for the photos.
The baroness (1913 – 1988) was trusted by most jazz musicians (generally Black), who were relaxed in her simpatico White patrician company in ways that should have been unexpected given the then-current racial climate. This being at ease gave rise to their variety of answers, honest or playful, and their non-poses and poses for her camera. But these are more than just jazz happy-snaps; some curtains are open and each shot shows off aspects of the person’s individuality in ways never seen before; check out Miles! The answers run the gamut from idealized to selfish; from personal to universal; from flippant to well thought out. But in no way are they given in anything but a spirit of playful friendship – amazing today, even more-so back then. If there is such a thing as a “soul”, then it shows up in this book for each and every musician… strong statement for an atheist such as I!
This is not a book that you’ll read through in one sitting, but one to delve into from time to time. It will also re-pay repeat visitations to the pages and images as well. It is an odd project done with the greatest of seriousness and love by Nica back in the long-gone day – she was one of the good guys in the world surrounding the world of jazz, a safe haven and buffer from the realities so that defenses could be lowered. Her contribution to the land of jazz in her decades are seen in part in this book… though “well-known” in the literature, she really wasn’t that well understood. We all owe the Baroness Pannonica de Keonigwarter a great debt for her efforts to soften the blows that (mainly Black) jazz musicians suffered through the decades after WW II. And you should acquire this book… the price is nice, and the contents are beautiful, though raw. Highly recommended.
PETER B. LOWRY
IAJRC JOURNAL; Sep ’09; v. 43, #3 – p. 103.