International Jazz Day

March 5, 2014anita No Comments »

Did you know on April 30th 2014 UNESCO hosts International Jazz Day?

WHY? Because…

“Jazz embodies the spirit of brings people together and builds peace, tolerance and understanding. It has been the soundtrack for positive social change, from the fight against racism to the struggle for democracy.”*

I love hearing these words by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, as they capture the essence of ‘ROUND THELONIOUS.

Check out their little promo…



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Gregory Porter Interview

February 27, 2014anita No Comments »

Last year I had the delightful experience of speaking over the phone with the Grammy-award winning jazz vocalist and composer Gregory Porter. He’s a cool cat, as you will find out if you would like to read a transcription of the interview for Eastside radio here.

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Happy Birthday Baroness!

December 10, 2013anita Comments Off

One hundred years ago in London, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was born Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild. Some years later she rejected the privileged world of the world’s richest family when she heard Thelonious Monk’s ballad ‘Round Midnight, falling under a musical spell. She spent the next thirty years of her life dedicated to Monk, his music and his world.

I am currently developing a one-woman musical ‘ROUND THELONIOUS, which tells the story of  Pannonica – or Nica, as she was known to her friends – and her relationship with one of the world’s great jazz composers, Thelonious Monk. I have spent many hours reading the biographies, watching the documentaries and visiting the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in the USA to find archival letters written by Nica; all of which have enabled me to write a show using many of the baroness’ own words. These will be woven into some of Monk’s best known tunes to recreate the fascinating and heartwarming story of Nica’s time being ‘ROUND THELONIOUS.


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Portraying baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Nica) in ‘ROUND THELONIOUS

Enjoy listening to these interviews I made recently with some experts about Nica, Monk and Bebop.

(An edited version of these interviews was aired on 89.7FM Eastside Radio in December 2013).

JOEL FORRESTER – US pianist and composer recounting his personal experiences with Baroness and Thelonious Monk. (Play Parts 1&2 below)

DAVID KASTIN – author of biography Nica’s Dream (W.W Norton, 2011): Play Parts 1 & 2 below.

JOHN SHAND – Finally, to hear insights from jazz author and journalist John Shand about Bebop, Monk (Part 1) and Nica’s relationship with Monk (Part 2) , listen here.


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Joel Forrester’s Gift

September 25, 2013anita No Comments »

One of the greatest gifts a musician or composer can bestow is to compose a piece of music for someone special.

Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter had over twenty tunes dedicated to her in her lifetime by the jazzmen she befriended and supported; tunes like Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica”, Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” and Gigi Gryce’s “Nica’s Tempo”  are the most known of these dedications. Tommy Flannagan’s “Thelonica” and Freddie Redd’s “Nica Steps Out” are also familiar to some dedicated beboppers.

Joel Forrester is a New York jazz pianist and another of the composers to write a tune for Nica. He wrote “Nica’s Gift” for the Baroness after they became friends in 1976.

Recently I spent time in New York with Forrester and was charmed by his openness, warmth and deep musicality. Upon my return to Australia he sent me a new tune he had composed entitled “Anita’s Gift”. I was thrilled to the back teeth!! However, I won’t say he wrote it especially for me. He had just finished composing ” a spiffy blues” and was wondering what to call his new tune when the doorbell rang; it was a courier delivering a thank you gift from me. It’s all in the timing…

Anita's Gift

Anita's Gift by Joel Forrester

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Paradise at The O’Neill

August 27, 2013anita No Comments »

I was literally jumping for joy in June when I read the news that I had been accepted as one of eight fellows to attend the Cabaret and Performance Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Cabaret and Performance Conference in Connecticut.  Even though I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, I felt sure it was going to be a great experience. I was not disappointed.

Artistic Director John McDaniel brought together an astonishing array of professional cabaret artists, which in itself was a feat as he was involved as Music Director of many of their performances. I really appreciated the diversity of these nightly acts, which were open to the public, as I could clearly see the common thread of cabaret – entertainment with music, heart and truth presented in a space where the audience is as much of the performance as the performer – as well as the limitless variety of human expression. Earthy Bob Dylan songs (Barb Jungr) were followed by harrowing stories of suicide attempts, hero worship of Patti LuPone (Ben Rimalower) and touching personal anecdotes from the original frontline of  ‘A Chorus Line’ (Donna McKechnie), to name a few.

One of the genius elements of the conference was being able to see first hand what these performers had to offer on the stage, and then the next morning have talk-back sessions with them. McDaniel had chosen such warm, real people who had much to share with us of their craft. Perhaps even more importantly, was the education and connecting opportunities that transpired in between those two daily scheduled events;  at the open-mic sessions in the little pub after the show, or the next morning in the canteen where faculty, fellows and guest performers would mingle over eggs and coffee.

I liked the fact that the fellows each had ten minutes’ public performance, as it gave us a focus and an avenue to perform what we had explored in our classes. The caliber of the faculty was highly professional and very inspirational. I will never forget the thrill of having Donna McKechnie choreograph the opening number to my first cabaret show, or listening to Tracy Stark’s upcoming album on her iphone in the canteen. Or when Bette Midler’s comedy writer Eric Kornfeld kindly offered to answer any future questions via e-mail – these are moments I value beyond words.

It’s now two weeks since I waved goodbye to the beautiful grounds and new fellow friends at The O’Neill, still reeling from the magic that transpired for me both personally and professionally.  The heart and professionalism I anticipated from the conference were well in abundance of my expectations. I am so grateful that my Antipodean search engine led me to the O’Neill website, and that I followed my heart’s desire to submit an application to the Cabaret and Performance Conference. I came away with new skills, confidence and drive and I also made some wonderful friends, including many of the technicians, interns, delightful O’Neill Staff members, Junior Fellows and local Connecticut residents. I sincerely hope to return one day to experience again the magic of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

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A concert and a workshop each from Adam Guettel and Chucho Valdes

June 13, 2013anita No Comments »

Two very different artists, but with much experience to impart to this eager sponge.

First was the Adam Guettel concert at Slide last week. Guettel is a Tony award-winning music theatre composer, and the grandson of Richard Rogers (of Hart and Hammerstein royalty). He also sings, and I really enjoyed hearing Guettel sing without the frighteningly de rigeur TWANG that I have never quite managed to take seriously. (Sorry y’all). Guettel’s fiance, singer/actor/dancer Haley Bond joined in on the act and together they performed some of the duets from Guettel’s musicals. I enjoyed her-clear-as-a-bell tones.

On the weekend Guettel held a masterclass (for singers) at the Australian Institute of Music. I was an observer, (and photographer, good to have a contra up one’s sleeve!). There was some pretty impressive local talent in the room and they had chosen difficult pieces…  It was a thrilling new experience for me to have the composer in the room making suggestions about how the song could be performed.

Then a few days later I found myself in another musical workshop – this time in the presence of the maestro Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. (Thanks very much to SIMA). What a beautiful man! So humble!! His playing is out of this world. I can’t play much more than chopsticks on the keyboard but that didn’t stop me lapping up the genius sounds, not just from him but the whole band. Valdes in his generosity gave much credit to the young players from Havanna, particularly Gaston Joya on bass, who deserved the accolade. Plus Yarordy Abreu on Congas, Dreiser Durruthy on vocals and bata, Rodney Barreto on drums – all masters.

I was so inspired by Chucho Valdes et al that I made sure I got myself to the Sydney Opera House to catch the above mentioned combo in concert last night. Once again, ripping music, and I enjoyed the tunes played by the trio combo of Valdes, Joya and Barreto as much as the quintet. I was only disappointed by the sound system at the Opera House – too muddy! Now I get what Laurence Hobgood, pianist and arranger with Kurt Elling told me. He said he had been warned about that auditorium and had played less notes than usual, which worked well. Come on Opera House!!

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June 13, 2013anita No Comments »

Happy, happy, happy days! I am so thrilled and very proud to announce that I have been accepted to the Cabaret and Performance Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. I’ve been working on this almost single handedly for two years so the idea of two weeks of hands-on guidance for my script and performance from high calibre educators is a dream come true!!

While I’m so close to New York (The O’Neill is in Connecticut) I’ll be able to do more research at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers Uni, as well as start looking around as I need to find me a MONK. Luckily, for this piano accompanist there were long periods of silence from Thelonious , and not much talking is required for the part. Any takers?!

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‘Round Thelonious

May 2, 2013anita No Comments »

It’s been a very inspiring time for me as my project “‘Round Thelonious” gathers momentum. Apart from my two real and beautiful children, this feels like my first baby. I have taken a seed of an idea and I have been growing it with the best organic fertilizer you can imagine; investing hundreds of hours of research as well as honing my writing and performance skills. And just a day ago I sent off an application to develop this project further at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s “Cabaret & Performance Conference 2013″ in July . I’ll keep you posted!!

Maybe it comes from singing at so many events where people are listening only out of the corners of their ears over a tray of canapés – or maybe it’s a middle child syndrome – but something in me was calling out for an audience!

So I began brainstorming. A good idea came my way  (Thanks Alyson!) – to create a one-woman cabaret show about my favourite cites – New York and Paris. I wrote down a million ideas, some of them better than others. Characters associated with the cities began to emerge, and one of them was so colourful she took up centre stage, very elegantly bumping the others off into the wings. She was glamorous! She was an heiress! She was rebellious! Enter Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

Most importantly to my needs, Pannonica (or Nica, as she was called) was madly passionate about jazz. I’ll get to that later.  But one stand-out action of this feisty lady, who by all accounts was the warmest, most down-to earth and charming person you could ever meet (some would say in spite of her emotionally-barren, materially-excessive Rothschild heritage) was the fact that she left her husband and five children and moved to New York, to be where the jazz was. As much as I adore jazz – and I do confess at times of stress the idea of running off to New York sans infants does appeal, but only for a split second – as a mother myself I just couldn’t relate. The more I asked myself “What was going on for her?” the more I tried to put myself in Nica’s shoes, and the more intrigued I became with her life and her story.

I am so grateful for two great biographies – “Nica’s Dream” (David Kastin, WW Norton & Company 2011), and “The Baroness” by Hannah Rothschild (Virago 2012). The former book I ordered in advance, as it hadn’t even been launched when I began researching. The latter was written lovingly by Nica’s great niece Hannah Rothschild, whose earlier BBC documentary “The Jazz Baroness” had been a great source of information to me, particularly as I could see footage of Nica and hear how she spoke (which will come in handy when I my Aussie beach accent needs to morph into a well-bred English lady’s.) I interviewed Hannah Rothschild for radio around the time “The Baroness” was launched in 2012. (See earlier Blog). You can hear the podcasts of this interview by clicking on THIS.

I will be updating regularly to share my progress with you. You can also catch me in my jazz tracks presenting Jammin’ Thursday at 89.7 FM Eastside Radio on Thursday mornings 7am -9am (EST Sydney).

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April 5, 2013anita No Comments »

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

I’m hoping to find a jazz version of this song by Queen to play on my Jammin’Thursday program on Eastside radio, where we are all breathing, eating and dreaming things bicycle! I must be crazy as I have just volunteered to do the 7am shift of the Eastside Ride on Sunday 21st April in Centennial Park. If you are insane enough to be there at that hour can somebody pleeeease bring me a coffee and a croissant?! Paleo diet be damned!!!

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Living legend Chita Rivera – Seymour Centre Sydney June 2011

April 5, 2013anita No Comments »

I just found this photo and wanted to share it. Taken backstage in June 2011 at The Seymour Centre. Volcano smoke couldn’t keep her away… probably because she is her own smokin’ hot mama. My kids had never seen or heard her, yet they were utterly THRILLED to meet her after they saw her show. She really is a living legend and I thank her for looking after herself so that she could share the love.

Me and my daughters with Chita

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