Random Book Review: Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

threewishes.jpgBaroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter still looms in the margins of jazz

history. Until now, her contributions during the Fifties, Sixties, and

Seventies were known mostly to insiders, aficionados, historians, and

journalists eager to sensationalize her association with the death of

Charlie Parker, who famously died in her living room in 1955.


de Koenigswarter's spirit flickers on in the 20-plus compositions

written in her honor, it would be impossible to overstate the extent to

which she sheltered, fed, bailed out, provided for, and acted as friend

and advocate to the musicians on New York City's jazz scene. In this

new book, you'll read about her close association with heavyweights

like Monk, Davis, Blakey, Powell, and, of course, Parker. During her

lengthy and informative introduction, de Koenigswarter's granddaughter

Nadine paints a poignant picture of her late grandmother as a woman

with a determined drive to nurture. De Koenigswarter, for example,

housed more than 100 cats. 

But Nadine also attempts to grasp her grandmother's love of jazz and

reminds the reader of de Koenigswarter's concrete (and ultimately

successful) campaign to abolish the discriminatory cabaret-card laws

imposed at the time on New York's jazz musicians. But de Koenigswarter

isn't the direct focus of Three Wishes.

In 1961, like a

genie emerging from a bottle, "Nica," as she was affectionately known

in the musicians' community, posed the eternal question to more than

300 musicians: "If you could have any three things in life, what would

they be?" The answers comprise the true soul of Three Wishes.

Unsurprisingly, they reveal much about a group of musicians who have,

for the most part, receded into the shadows of history and myth and

their relationships with their instruments, their craft, and the jazz

art form itself. Though the musicians' answers -- by turns humorous,

sad, and touching -- essentially consist of short napkin-note

scribblings, they were compiled as jazz's popularity was beginning to

wane in the United States. Thus, the book is charged with subtle but

profound suggestions of disappointed expectations as a daily reality

for all creative people and speaks to greater notions of fulfillment

that we can all relate to.

A wealth of candid Polaroid photos

taken by de Koenigswarter enhance the refreshingly personal -- and

achingly human -- perspective that Three Wishes presents. It'd be a handsome addition for the collection of any vintage jazz fan with a coffee table.

--Saby Reyes-Kulkarni