Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness

Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness

by David Kastin
     
 

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The first biography of the legendary Rothschild heiress who reigned as New York’s “Jazz Baroness.”
It’s a misty night in 1950s New York. A silver Rolls-Royce screeches to a stop at the neon-lit doorway of a 52nd Street jazz club. Behind the wheel is a glamorous brunette, a chinchilla stole draped over her shoulder and a long cigarette

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Overview

The first biography of the legendary Rothschild heiress who reigned as New York’s “Jazz Baroness.”
It’s a misty night in 1950s New York. A silver Rolls-Royce screeches to a stop at the neon-lit doorway of a 52nd Street jazz club. Behind the wheel is a glamorous brunette, a chinchilla stole draped over her shoulder and a long cigarette holder clinched in her teeth. After taking a pull from a small silver flask, she glides past the bouncer into the murky depths of the Three Deuces. The Jazz Baroness has arrived.
Raised in fairy-tale splendor, Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter (known as “Nica”) piloted her own plane across the English Channel, married a French baron, fought in the French Resistance, and had five children. Then she heard a recording of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Inspired by the liberating spirit of jazz, Nica left her family, moved to Manhattan, and began haunting the city’s nightclubs.
The tabloids first splashed her name across the headlines after Charlie Parker died in her hotel suite—a scandal that cast a dark shadow over the rest of her life. She retreated from the public eye, but through her ongoing ministrations to Monk and dozens of other musicians she became a legend. Nearly a score of jazz compositions have been written in her honor, including two of the most beloved classics of the genre: Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” and Monk’s “Pannonica.”Nica’s Dream traces the story of a fascinating woman across her thirty-year reign as the Jazz Baroness, but it also explores a transformative era in twentieth-century American culture. Based on interviews with musicians, family members, historians, and artists, David Kastin’s probing biography unwraps the life of this enigmatic figure and evokes the vibrancy of New York during the birth of bebop, the first stirrings of the Beat Generation, and the advent of abstract expressionism.

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Editorial Reviews

T. S. Monk
“The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was a cultural bridge, and source of understanding for an enormously important generation of jazz musicians. This book is a must read.”
Robert Kraft
“David Kastin has written the definitive biography of one of the most elusive, beguiling and pivotal personalities in 20th Century music. The story of Pannonica is essential reading for all fans of art, culture and jazz.”
David Amram
“Nica’s Dream is a brilliant and incisive addition to the history of jazz. The Baroness Nica is portrayed in such a truthful fashion that those of us blessed to have known her now can introduce her to anyone by giving them a copy of this outstanding biography. Nica’s Dream reads like a picaresque novel. But it’s all true.”
Phil Schaap
“A stunning biography of Monk’s patron. What a story!”
Ashley Kahn
“With a journalist’s dedication to research and a storyteller’s passion for historical context, Kastin relates the most unusual life of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswater—the woman who left behind a family and a fortune to dedicate herself to the maestri of modern jazz.”
Robin D. G. Kelley
“Finally! Nica’s story told in Technicolor, with the grandeur to match her own. David Kastin penetrates the myths and legends about the Jazz Baroness. In doing so, he gives us a stunning cultural biography of New York City and a riveting portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. Bravo!”
Library Journal
The name Nica de Koenigswarter may not be immediately recognizable, yet she was an important patron to a bevy of jazz greats. Many paid her tribute in compositions, including the one by Horace Silver that serves as the title of this excellent biography. Kastin (I Hear America Singing: An Introduction to Popular Music) traces the journey of this Rothschild heiress and heroine of the French Resistance through her personally groundbreaking 1953 move to New York, where, after leaving her titled husband and her children, she emerged as a major inspirational presence in the jazz world. Koenigswarter frequented jazz clubs from 52nd Street to the Five Spot, hosted jam sessions in her luxurious living quarters, provided generous funding, and befriended numerous jazz talents and often their families—particularly Thelonious Monk—and helped them overcome personal challenges that were often as complex as the innovative music they created. VERDICT This is an essential read for jazz enthusiasts and strongly suggested for those interested in new perspectives on jazz culture and its historical framework. Kastin is an exceptionally fine writer who compellingly blends rare interviews, in-depth research, and masterful storytelling in this first biography of a legendary individual.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

Music historian and educator Kastin (I Hear America Singing: An Introduction to Popular Music, 2001)narrates the life of Kathleen Annie Pannonica (Nica) Rothschild (1913–1988), an heiress who fell in love with American jazz and soon became a sort of fairy godmother to some of the form's greatest names, principally Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

The author begins with the most controversial moment in Nica's life: the shocking death in 1955 of Parker, 34, in her New York hotel room. The event propelled her onto the front pages and raised many eyebrows (including, respectfully, Kastin's, who doubts Nica had sexual relations with her musician friends). The author is stymied throughout by the reluctance of Nica's children to grant interviews—or even to permit access to their mother's rich archive of recordings and papers. But he goes with what he has, which is considerable. Kastin chronicles the rise of the Rothschilds, Nica's family, her marriage, notable service in World War II, motherhood, divorce and her absolute devotion to jazz—and to the many musicians she befriended and subsidized. Night after night, she parked her Rolls (later, a Bentley) outside the clubs; she opened her hotel rooms and (later) her house to all-night jam sessions; she helped rescue Monk from oblivion, saw him enjoy a long period of soaring popularity, endured and supported him during his various psychological crises and allowed him to board for protracted times with her. Along the way, Kastin introduces us to just about every major figure in American jazz (Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Art Blakey et al.)—and a few notable fans as well (Norman Mailer and Leonard Bernstein, among others).

Though this is putatively Nica's story, neither the author nor readers can long avert attention from mesmerizing Monk and the other Olympians of bebop.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393069402
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/27/2011
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,428,775
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

T. S. Monk
The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was a cultural bridge, and source of understanding for an enormously important generation of jazz musicians. This book is a must read.

Meet the Author

Music historian and educator David Kastin is the author of I Hear America Singing. His work has appeared in DownBeat, the Village Voice, and the Da Capo Best Music Writing series. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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