Only in New York City. Only in the world of bebop. And only in the formative years of the 1950s and 1960s. Without those three elements, and without Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Three Wishes becomes simply another fairy tale. Nica — as she was known — was heiress to the Rothschild family and would become the patron saint, benefactor, and muse to the greatest collection of jazz players the world has ever known. And then some.
Nica moved to New York City in 1952 and ensconced herself in the Hotel Stanhope and the legendary jazz clubs of the city: the Five Spot, the Village Vanguard, Birdland, and Minton’s Playhouse. As she became a fixture on the scene, players gravitated towards her company and her suite to unwind, party and jam — much to the hoteliers’ disdain. Several hotels later, Nica purchased a more private house with a fabulous city view in Weehawken, New Jersey. There, the musicians could come and go, play and “play” as they wished, and along with the Baroness’ 125 cats, the place would become known as “the Cathouse.”
Nica began to photograph the musicians with a Polaroid camera. Casual shots of musicians being themselves; relaxing, having a drink, clowning and generally letting their guard down. I promise you; you have NEVER seen Miles Davis like you will in two pictures featured in this book. Likewise, the shot of a shirtless Thelonius Monk playing ping pong at the Cathouse is unforgettable. The photos are strictly amateur — some out of focus, some poor quality — but they are interesting in a cinema verité kind of way, simply because of the obvious comfort zone these legendary musicians had with Nica.
In the sixties, Nica began a project, which would ultimately become the text that accompanies her snapshots. Beginning with Monk, she asked the musicians, “If you were given three wishes, to be instantly granted, what would they be?”
Sadly, the responses never live up to their promise for me. The majority could be right out of the rock’n’roll handbook: money, sex, more money, and more sex. There are wishes for health, world peace and racial harmony; all noble thoughts and surprisingly, a few acknowledged masters wish they could simply play better. But somehow….I wanted more…
Interestingly, Monk wishes for things he already has, providing perhaps a glimpse into his already fragile psyche. Miles has only one wish, and I won’t spoil it except to say that it’s both shocking and perhaps predictable. Sun Ra is as obtuse as you might expect.
The book reminds me of a false start or an unfinished take…interesting, but ultimately fleeting and a bit unsatisfying. It’s fun to pick up and peruse Three Wishes with a Monk record on in the background, but there’s nothing really essential or definitive about this book. It is simply a moment in time...briefly there and then gone.
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