A Rothschild by birth and a Baroness by marriage, beautiful, spirited Pannonica - known as Nica - seemed to have it all: children, a handsome husband and a trust fund. But in the early 1950s she heard a piece by the jazz legend Thelonious Monk. The music overtook her like a magic spell, and she abandoned her marriage to go and find him.
Arriving in New York, Nica was shunned by society but accepted by the musicians. They gave her friendship; she gave them material and emotional support. Her convertible Bentley was a familiar sight outside the clubs and she drank whisky from a hip flask disguised as a Bible. Her notoriety was sealed when drug-addicted saxophonist Charlie Parker died in her apartment. But her real love was reserved for Monk, whom she cared for until his death in 1982.
The Baroness traces Nica's extraordinary, thrilling journey - from England's stately homes to the battlefields of Africa, passing under the shadow of the Holocaust, and finally to the creative ferment of the New York jazz scene. Hannah Rothschild's search to solve the mystery of her rebellious great aunt draws on their long friendship and years of meticulous research and interviews. It is part musical odyssey, part dazzling love story.
This charming biography of the eccentric and romantically adventurous Baroness Panonica de Koenigswarter (1913 1988) is written by her great-niece. Perhaps Rothschild could be accused of obsession, having previously produced both a radio program and a documentary feature film about the baroness, but the reader is immediately engaged. Rothschild vividly describes the world of wealth and privilege in which Panonica (known as Nica) was raised in the early decades of the 20th century, a lonely youngest daughter of a mentally unstable and later suicidal father and a Hungarian beauty of a mother. Rothschild wants to understand how and why Nica (who became a baroness when she married Baron Jules de Koenigswarter) turned her back on her family and her husband and fled deep into the New York jazz scene of the late 1940s. A benefactor to countless musicians, she became the subject of tabloid gossip when Charlie Parker died in her suite at the elite Stamford Hotel. Much of the vitality of her New York life hinges on her long relationship with Thelonious Monk, who wrote songs for her and for whom she once took the fall in a drug bust. Nica is an irresistible combination of British eccentricity and Rothschild sophistication. Readers will enjoy this intimate story of a lifetime of rule breaking, told with remarkable detail, tenderness, and true empathy.