Feb 24, 2010
Home recuperating from an illness, I caught The Jazz Baroness on HBO. This documentary, originally made for the BBC, was directed by Hannah Rothschild, the great-niece of its subject, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (1913-1988). An heir to the Rothschild fortune, "Nica" turned her back on Europe and moved to America, where she became a fixture, and then a patron, of the New York jazz scene of for three decades. Charlie Parker died in her apartment; Thelonious Monk was a long-time friend and later a husband. It's a fascinating look at a highly idiosyncratic person who lived life on her own terms.
Nica became so much of a muse and sponsor for jazz musicians that as many as twenty songs were written and recorded in her honor. Podcast 179 features a number of these songs, including, of course, the Monk classic, "Pannonica". Click here to listen to:
Sonny Clark - "Nica" from The Sonny Clark Trio: High Fidelity. Clark made some great recordings for Blue Note from 1957 to 1961, sparked by ensembles including trombonist Curtis Fuller, trumpeter Art Farmer and Saxophonist Hank Mobley. This recording, the only one he made for another label before his untimely death in 1963, features a trio setting with Clark on piano, George Duvivier on bass and Max Roach on drums.
Thelonious Monk - "Pannonica" from Criss-Cross. Monk's first recording for Columbia Records features him on piano, Charles Rouse on saxophone, Frankie Dunlop on drums and John Ore on bass. A true classic.
Horace Silver - "Nica's Dream" from Horace-Scope. This Silver composition had been around for several years but hadn't yet been recorded on a Silver LP when he got the latest edition of his quintet into Rudy Van Gelder's studio. The quintet was Silver on piano, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Junior Cook on sax, Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums.
Gigi Gryce - Title track from Nica's Tempo. This 1955 album is a double-threat of sorts, with six tracks coming from a big band that included Art Farmer and Horace Silver, while four, including this one, come from a quartet of Monk on piano, Gryce on alto sax. Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey on drums.
Kenny Drew Trio - "Blus for Nica" from Kenny Drew Trio. This 1956 recording finds the underated pianist in good company - Miles Davis' bassist and drummer are along for the ride. Paul Chambers chooses the bow on several tracks, while Philly Joe Jones gives the trio a solid rhythm backing. Check out the recordings made by his son, Kenny Drew Jr. as well.