She was born in an old Jewish family and grew up in the British aristocracy. Her life was all mapped out; it should have been the conservative and traditional existence of an aristocratic heiress and society girl. She married a French baron, founded a family. Then came WW2, when she decided to send her children to the USA and to fight alongside her husband. She learned to fly Lancaster bombers and later was decorated for her war services and made a lieutnant.
A few years after the end of the war, she heard Duke Ellington’s “Black, brown and beige ” symphony. “I got the message that I belonged where that music was. There was something I was supposed to do. I was supposed to be involved in it some way. I got a really clear message. It wasn’t long afterwards that it happened, that cut out from there. It was a real calling.” *
This real calling the Baroness was talking about happened in 1948 or 1949, when her friend Teddy Wilson made her listen to Thelonius Monk’s “Round midnight”. This tune changed her life. She left her family and went to New York, with one single goal in mind: Meet this genius!
Until her death in 1988 the Baroness stayed in New York. She supported many jazz musicians (Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Barry Harris, Art Blakey a.o.) and didn’t care much about segragation laws. She did everything she could to back Thelonius Monk so he could entirely concentrate on music. She even went to jail for him. For several decades she also inspired these musicians. The result is a quite long list of songs written for or inspired by Nica de Koenigswarter (born Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild, 1913-1988).
Here are a few of them:
Sonny Rollins – Poor butterfly
Thelonius Monk – Pannonica
Horace Silver – Nica’s Dream (here performed by The Jazz Messengers)
Kenny Dorham – Tonica
Sonny Clark – Nica
Thelonius Monk – Bolivar Blues
If the Baroness’s story interests you, you should have a look at her biography written by Hannah Rothschild (The Baroness – The search for Nica, the rebellious Rothschild) or watch the documentary directed by the same Hannah Rothschild, entitled “The Jazz Baroness“.
* excerpt from “The Baroness – The search for Nica, the rebellious Rothschild”, Hannah Rothschild, Virago Press – p. 144
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