Last night I received a e-mail from my good friend David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights. In addition to his warm and always-welcome pleasantries, David hipped me to a soon-to-expire BBC radio podcast about Pannonica "Nica" Koenigswarter (pictured), the famed, eccentric patron of jazz and jazz musicians in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Nica was a huge supporter (and benefactor) of Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk (pictured with the Baroness at the wheel) and so many other jazz greats. Nica drove a large cream Bentley, and was the inspiration for numerous jazz standards, including Monk's Pannonica, Gigi Gryce's Nica's Tempo, Sonny Clark's Nica and Horace Silver's Nica's Dream.
As all Charlie Parker students know, Bird died in Nica's suite at New York's Stanhope Hotel after taking ill in March 1955. But there's news in the BBC podcast: According to jazz author and critic Gary Giddins, who was interviewed, Nica likely had Parker's body taken to Bellevue Hospital where she was able to keep his death out of the newspapers for several days until she could find and inform Parker's widow, Chan.
When the news broke, the tabloids were quick to spin seamy conclusions about a fabulously wealthy white woman, a dead African-American jazz genius, drugs, sex and on and on. The Daily Mirror headline says it all—Bop King Dies in Heiress' Flat.
This fascinating documentary, by Hannah Rothschild, Nica's great niece, can be heard here (click on "The Jazz Baroness" link). But you had better hurry! The podcast expires in six days. While you're at it, read more about Nica at David Brent Johnson's blog here.
JazzWax tracks: Wouldn't it be great to have a collection of the Nica tributes in one place? In the do-it-yourself digital age, it's indeed do-able. Here's a list for downloading (the albums are in parenthesis). All are available at iTunes—except those with asterisks:
- Thelonious Monk—Pannonica (Brilliant Corners)
- Gigi Gryce—Nica's Tempo (Nica's Tempo)
- Horace Silver—Nica's Dream (Horace-Scope)
- Kenny Dorham—Tonica (Jazz Contemporary)
- Kenny Drew—Blues for Nica (Blues for Nica)*
- Freddie Redd—Nica Steps Out (San Francisco Suite)***
- Barry Harris—Inca (Barry Harris Plays Barry Harris)**
- Tommy Flannigan—Thelonica (Thelonica)