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NICA, NELLIE AND MONK: A JAZZ TRIANGLE

I would like to tell you about two women with whom you may not be familiar. Each
woman, while coming from extremely different worlds, had common elements. Each set
her own course in life and defied conventional wisdom. They also shared one common
denominator who would define their lives for the ages: Jazz pianist and composer
Thelonious Monk.
PART ONE: THE BEBOP BARONESS
The first woman, a product of old world Europe, was nevertheless the definition of an
unconventional woman. Her name was Pannonica de Koenigswarter (nee Kathleen
Annie Pannonica Rothschild), born in 1913 to Lord Charles Rothschild of the financial
and nature conservation English dynasty. Pannonica married a French baron, Jules de
Koenigswarter, who notably aided in the French resistance during World War II while
Nica went underground. Her full name included the title Baroness, but her friends in
the jazz world simply called her Nica.
Nica was not your typical Baroness. When the family moved to New York in connection
with her husbands diplomatic function, Nica rebelled against the typical pomp and
circumstance. She smoked joints, shunned diplomatic soirees and appeared a little too
comfortable among blacks in a segregated society. When the marriage ended in divorce,
Nica remained in New York and continued to cavort around town with her black male
jazz musician friends, hosting jam sessions for them inside her apartment and raising
eyebrows. When Charlie Parker died in March 1955 under questionable circumstances at
her Manhattan home, Nica was thrown out of her building. She would eventually
purchase a large estate in New Jersey filled with over 100 cats and a panoramic view of
the Manhattan skyline.
After Parkers death, Nica began to hang out with Thelonious Monk, whom she had met
in Paris in June 1954. The two were introduced backstage after one of Monks
performances by the brilliant black bebop pianist and mutual friend Mary Lou Williams.
Nica and Monk became close friends. They hung out together at clubs along with other
jazz musicians. Once, late one night, their vehicle was stopped by police and Monk was
reportedly beaten by police officers. When drugs were found, police tried to bring
charges against Monk but Nica insisted that the drugs were hers.
END OF PART ONE
NEXT: NELLIE SMITH MONK AND CONCLUSION