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Film explores tie between NC jazz great Monk and baroness

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Here's a lovely way to spend the night before Thanksgiving. Tune into HBO2 and watch "The Jazz Baroness," a documentary about the relationship between NC native and jazz legend Thelonious Monk and Pannonica 'Nica' Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish woman. It airs at 8.

If you're somewhat familiar with jazz lore, you might know of Rothschild; she's the woman in whose NY home Charlie Parker died.

But her most enduring connection was with Rocky Mount's Monk. She encounters him first by record; a friend plays 'Round Midnight' and Rothschild is transformed, needing to hear it 20 more times. When they finally meet in Paris, they are together for the next 28 years.

But it's a platonic love. Monk was married and devoted to his wife. Rothschild, most observers say, was in love with Monk, but a divorcee with five children, she was fine settling for being his devoted friend. Monk's wife Nellie was fine with the arrangement; Monk was a genius plagued with mental illness, and Rothschild helped when he was difficult.

The film was made by Rothschild's great niece Hannah, who discovered her great-aunt when she was looking at a family tree, and saw a name she'd never heard before. That set her on a journey to find out who this woman was. The film documents her exploration featuring interviews with people in the jazz world, including players like Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes and Quincy Jones; Monk's son, and notable fans like Clint Eastwood. Helen Mirren lends her voice to read Rothschild's words.

The music alone makes the film worthwhile, but it's also beautifully filmed. And Rothschild was a fascinating woman, one who liberated herself before that was heard of. She left her husband because he liked military music and would break her jazz albums when she was late for dinner. And I was late a lot, she wrote. She deeply believed in Monk's genius before most of the world did. Later in life, she lived in a house with more than 300! cats.

Monk wasn't the only one who thought she was something special. She's had 30 songs written about her by various artists, including Monk's "Pannonica." And when she died, six years after Monk, she asked that her ashes be spread in the Hudson River 'round midnight.

If you don't have HBO2, track someone down who does and catch "The Jazz Baroness" on these other dates: Nov. 29 (8:00 a.m.) and 30 (3:00 p.m.), and Dec. 3 (6:30 p.m.), 11 (7:45 a.m.) and 16 (1:30 p.m.)

And you can learn a bit more about the Baroness and see a clip of the film on HBO's informative site.

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About the blogger

Adrienne Johnson Martin would like to have her life turned into an animated cartoon. E-mail Adrienne.