Neighbor Joe Milazzo’s debut novel, “Crepuscule w/Nellie,” has been 20 years in the making. But who’s counting?
“I would describe [the novel] as speculative historical fiction,” Milazzo says. “It’s based very, very, very loosely on some events in the life of a famous jazz pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk.
“He was one of the most important jazz artists affiliated with what became known as modern jazz — or bebop at the time.”
The novel actually is about Thelonious’ wife, Nellie Monk, and his patron and confidante, the Baroness Pannonica De Koenigswarter, who was a big fan and supporter of American jazz.
“She was a figure who was kind of a tabloid figure at the time. She was called ‘the jazz baroness,’ ” Milazzo says.
Milazzo’s interest in Thelonious Monk was sparked in college with a short story he wrote for a class.
At the time, there wasn’t a lot of solid research on Thelonious. There were only myths and vague references about the relationships that may or may not have existed between Thelonious, Nellie and the baroness, Milazzo says.
This brief encounter launched in Milazzo an on-again-off-again interest in Thelonious Monk, which continued for two decades before ultimately resulting in a novel.
“Really my interest just came out of listening to his music,” Milazzo says. “He wrote a composition for each woman. So if you just pick up his music, you’ll find a piece entitled ‘Pannonica’ and then another titled ‘Crepuscule w/Nellie.’ The novel really came out of listening to those compositions.”
Although Nellie was Thelonious’ wife and the mother of his children, Thelonious spent the last 10 years of his life living with the baroness, Milazzo says. There’s a chance Thelonious went undiagnosed with schizophrenia for many years.
“So he probably lived with her because it was easier for all parties involved,” Milazzo explains. “The novel doesn’t get into that, but it is fed by all those things — like how could these three people coexist? What would that have been like?” The novel will be made available on Nov. 1.
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