Hannah Rothschild – The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild
(Virago, 319pp.; £20. Book Review by Chris Parker)
The basic facts are known to all jazz aficionados: Nica befriended and helped large numbers of New York’s jazz community, from Art Blakey to Bud Powell, Horace Silver to Charles Mingus; she became a close friend of Monk, in particular, even taking a drug rap for him and providing him with somewhere to live in his later years; Charlie Parker died in her apartment. What is less clear is her psychological motivation for so thoroughly confounding social and familial expectations, but the book is perhaps most interesting when speculating on this very matter. Nica’s father’s depression and suicide, her horror at what she saw as the straitjacket of upper-class life, her family’s experience of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust: all are carefully examined by this fascinating and deeply personal study, and – like all successful biographies – The Baroness, with its wealth of intriguing detail about such disparate social milieux, merely whets the reader’s appetite for more, not only about Monk (fortunately, there is an exhaustive biography of him by Robin D. G. Kelley available: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, JR Books) but also about the Rothschilds, the Free French Army, the post-bop jazz world etc.
A lucid, clear-eyed account of a charismatic, self-willed but ultimately elusive figure, this absorbing book should be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in any of these subjects.