The Baroness of Bop

Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter still looms in the margins of jazz history. Until now, her contributions during the '50s, '60s, and '70s 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.

Though 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 artform 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.

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni