Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Almost finished with another book, so...

I'm getting close to finishing a book about jazz called "Hear me Talkin' to Ya", so I figured I'd better post my review of another jazz book that I finished almost two months ago:

In my early days of learning about the jazz songbook, I was quite clueless about more than a few things. To this day, I’m still not exactly sure when I realized “Nica”, “Pannonica”, and the numerous mentions and variants thereof, referred to one specific person. And of course, I also had no idea why so many musicians dedicated songs to the same woman.

There are better, and many worse, shots that could have been on the cover of this book.
This book was high on my jazz reading list for the longest time, before I connected those dots, and while I expected “Three Wishes” by Pannonica de Koenigswarter, late of the Rothschild family, to answer some of those questions, that’s not really what this book is about. This book is a compilation of Polaroid photos of jazz musicians Pannonica took performing (or smoking, or sleeping, or joking around, or lounging) around her house and the clubs of New York City. For the text, she asked (approximately) 300 jazz musicians what they would ask for if they had three wishes. For the most part, the answers are predictable and mundane, with money, health, success, musical ability, loving family, world peace, and racial equality being the notable top vote getters. Occasionally, one or another musician will flash a bit of insight, promise, or self-deprecation that comes completely unexpected (Miles Davis, for instance, had only one wish: To be white!), but for me, the wishes were secondary to the photos and the overall collection of musicians’ comments. Not all the pictures are really publication worthy, but that they even exist makes them valuable and interesting.
Important? Interesting? Historic? Book-worthy? Uhhh...maybe.
For such a thorough documentarian, I found it unusual that some of the subjects of her photos could not be identified. It makes me a little curious about how Pannonica could be so far above board and yet so inscrutable. I guess that is a little bit of what makes the book interesting: the mystery of motive surrounding this gadfly to and patroness of jazz musicians. Anyway, the book does contain enough profundities and behind the scenes looks at a long vanished era of jazz history, that the average reader with an interest in jazz will come away somehow feeling privileged to have been provided a glimpse into the life of some jazz musicians, or at least, happy to have somehow sneaked a glance behind a door that was always kept closed during the early years of jazz.

I highly doubt Pannonica had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish in compiling this book, but there is no denying that she accomplished something with a lot of compelling qualities. Is this book a must read for jazz fans and historians? Probably not. Does it entertain while illuminating a few dark corners of jazz in the middle of the 20th century? Most definitely.