Saturday, October 25, 2008

HANGIN' AT THE CATHOUSE

Charles Mingus and Pannonica de Koenigswarter
Dear Nica,

I’m Charles L. Latimer a jazz blogger and journalist based in Detroit, MI. Yesterday I purchased a copy of your book Three Wishes an Intimate Look at Jazz Greats from Barnes and Noble in Grosse Pointe, MI. I read the book today. What I novel idea to ask jazz greats such as Thelonius Monk, Barry Harris, Anita O’Day, Coleman Hawkins, and many others what would they ask for if granted three wishes.
You befriended a lot of jazz musicians. They treated you like their little sister, especially Monk who you helped when his mental state worsened, and he became reclusive. You treated musicians like human beings not commodities. Monk named your pad the Cathouse because jazz musicians congregated there, and you actually owned 144 cats.

Did you name each cat after a jazz musician? If I owned a male cat I’d name it Mingus, and a feline Mary Lou. Those are catchy names I think. I want a cat, but my wife doesn’t. She loves dogs. I’m the opposite. So we’re at an impasse.

Jazz musicians hung out at the Cathouse. You snapped photos of them. It appeared to be a haven where they could unwind. I wished I could’ve been there when you photographed drummer Roy Brooks sitting at the drums in a soft leather jacket sporting a scruffy bread, and saxophonist Charlie Rouse wearing a fur coat and matching hat standing next to pianist Sonny Clark who look like a pimp down on his luck, and pianist Barry Harris snuggled up with one of your cats. The photos were just as compelling as the musician’s answers to your question.

The musicians were candid. The consensus was steady work, good health and a livable income. Duke Ellington elegantly said: “My wishes are very simple. I just want nothing but the best”. Pianist Barry Harris wanted a room with a Steinway and a good record player, where he could be alone with all the Charlie Parker and Bud Powell records. Drummer Roy Brooks wished for prosperity, happiness and three more wishes.

Some musicians were longwinded. Others were direct. After reading Three Wishes, I felt as if I personally knew each musician. Nica, your life was a dream surrounded by musicians who cherished you.

I wondered why you left Charlie Parker out. Back then, maybe Parker was in bad shape. Did you ask Bird for his three wishes? I imagined he would've answered he wanted to live a clean life.

A biographer should’ve written about your life, Nica, explaining your affinity for jazz, and why you befriended jazz musicians. I bet you had some great stories to tell. Your life seemed like an endless jam session.

Three Wishes inspired me to give you my wish list. First, the local jazz musicians I interviewed would benefit from the articles I write about their lives,
Secondly, God would allow the late pianists Teddy Harris and Harold McKinney to return to Detroit so they could resume mentoring the next generation of jazz musicians.
Lastly, I want to learn how to play the piano like Craig Taborn and Cyrus Chestnut.

--Charles L. Latimer
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