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Nica's Dream

The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness

David Kastin (Author)


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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • June 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06940-2
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide


Endorsements & Reviews

“Starred Review. 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.” — Library Journal

“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.” — Ashley Kahn, author of The House that Trane Built

“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!” — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

“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.” — T. S. Monk

“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.” — Robert Kraft, President, Fox Music Inc.

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.” — David Amram, American composer, musician, author

“A stunning biography of Monk’s patron. What a story!” — Phil Schaap, curator and jazz historian, WKCR-FM, New York City

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