Without impresarios, patrons and muses, jazz would be poorer by several legends. The most dazzling of these personalities was Baroness Pannonica de Königswinter. Coming from the British branch of the Rothschild banking family, she had learned to love jazz at an early age through her father’s record collection. After periods as an art student (early 1930s in Munich), and as a pilot, resistance fighter and diplomat’s wife, she went to New York in 1952 – following Thelonious Monk who she had heard in Paris with “Round About Midnight” and who she was eager to meet. She subsequently became a lifelong friend and patron to him – as well as to countless other jazz musicians from Charlie Parker to Barry Harris, for who first her hotel suites, and later her “Catsville” house in New Jersey, became a salon and sanctuary. She helped with money, housing, jobs, legal assistance, as a cover designer and agent (for Art Blakey) – and in return, the musicians dedicated a number of compositions to her.
Some of these, from Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” to Monk’s “Pannonica”, are performed in this concert in the Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic series – a tribute to this extraordinary woman and her greatest protégé, Thelonious Monk. Given a contemporary setting by a one-time-only all-star band, Iiro Rantala, who, from his Lost Heroes to his homage to John Lennon, has always had a penchant for musical hero worship, takes centre stage on piano, as it were, in the role of Monk. He is joined by the former e.s.t. bassist Dan Berglund, Verneri Pohjola from Finland on trumpet, the Swedish drummer Anton Eger, and Angelika Niescier from Germany on saxophone. Guest star and contemporary witness is the American saxophonist and Grammy winner Ernie Watts who played with Thelonious Monk himself.