Synopses & Reviews
Beautiful, romantic and spirited, Pannonica, known as Nica, named after her father’s favorite moth, was born in 1913 to extraordinary, eccentric privilege and a storied history. The Rothschild family had, in only five generations, risen from the ghetto in Frankfurt to stately homes in England. As a child, Nica took her daily walks, dressed in white, with her two sisters and governess around the parkland of the vast house at Tring, Hertfordshire, among kangaroos, giant tortoises, emus and zebras, all part of the exotic menagerie collected by her uncle Walter. As a debutante, she was taught to fly by a saxophonist and introduced to jazz by her brother Victor; she married Baron Jules de Koenigswarter, settled in a château in France and had five children. When World War II broke out, Nica and her five children narrowly escaped back to England, but soon after, she set out to find her husband who was fighting with the Free French Army in Africa, where she helped the war effort by being a decoder, a driver and organizing supplies and equipment.
In the early 1950s Nica heard “’Round Midnight” by the jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and, as if under a powerful spell, abandoned her marriage and moved to New York to find him. She devoted herself to helping Monk and other musicians: she bailed them out of jail, paid their bills, took them to the hospital, even drove them to their gigs, and her convertible Bentley could always be seen parked outside downtown clubs or up in Harlem. Charlie Parker would notoriously die in her apartment in the Stanhope Hotel. But it was Monk who was the love of her life and whom she cared for until his death in 1982.
Hannah Rothschild has drawn on archival material and her own interviews in this quest to find out who her great-aunt really was and how she fit into a family that, although passionate about music and entomology, was reactionary in always favoring men over women. Part musical odyssey, part love story, The Baroness is a fascinating portrait of a modern figure ahead of her time who dared to live as she wanted, finally, at the very center of New York’s jazz scene.
"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. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The fascinating, intimately told story of the wild and romantic life of Pannonica Rothschild, which moves from London to Africa during World War II and finally to the post-war jazz world of New York City.
Through interviews with her relatives and access to family documents, Hannah Rothschild has pieced together the life of her extraordinary great-aunt. She describes Nica's early years in her family's tradition-bound Sir Christopher Wren-designed home, Tring Park in Hertfordshire, and at 148 Piccadilly in London, where footmen were behind every chair and Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein were frequent guests. We see Nica enter the deb circuit, her early marriage to Baron Jules de Koenigswarter, the birth of their five children, and life at their chateau in France. We follow her escape from the Nazis and work in Africa with her husband, who was part of the Allied Defensive; and that moment in the 1950s, when, after hearing the piece"'Round Midnight," she leaves her marriage and moves to New York in search of Thelonious Monk, living out the rest of her life as a music manager and patroness of Monk as well as much of the New York jazz world.
About the Author
Hannah Rothschild is a writer and director whose documentaries have appeared at film festivals including Telluride and Tribeca. She conceived and directed The Jazz Baroness,
a film about her great-aunt and Thelonious Monk, which was broadcast by BBC and HBO in 2009. She has written for British Vanity Fair, Vogue, The Independent
and The Spectator
. She is vice president of the Hay Literary Festival and trustee of the National Gallery and Waddesdon Manor.