(Review by Lance.)
Suddenly she's everywhere in my life. A BBC documentary (The Jazz Baroness), a DVD of the same plus, a biography by David Kaskin - Nica's Dream - and now this! The Baroness by Pannonica Rothschild's great niece Hannah.
To an impressionable 15 year old whose parents had yet to acquire a television set the idea of a jazz musician dying in the New York apartment of a beautiful Baroness whilst watching other jazz musicians on tv seemed to me to be the ideal way to go! Of course if I'd realised at the time the tragi-drug related circumstances described in the book I may have removed the rose tinted glasses.
The first half of the book delves into the Rothschild dynasty and what an odd bunch they were. Hannah's brother Victor studied jazz piano with Teddy Wilson and, during the Second World War worked for MI(5/6) on bomb disposal. He claimed that years of copying Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum's chords was ideal preparation for such a tricky task. He was awarded the George Medal - presumably for his bomb disposal rather than deciphering Art Tatum chords although that too is most surely worth a gong of some sort!
Nica also had quite a war fighting with the Free French Army in North Africa and rumoured to have flown Lancaster Bombers....
The second half centres around Monk, the drug bust she took for him, her tending him both in sickness and in health, his idiosyncrasies and much, much much more.
Nevertheless, although there isn't a lot of new jazz material in The Baroness, I found it compelling reading. Should you have Pannonica playing as you read - the live version recorded at The Five Spot - it will do nothing to spoil your pleasure. Pleasure perhaps isn't the right word as there is a lot of pain and suffering re-counted but, whatever, it is a fascinating study of pre-war European opulence, wartime, bebop and black America in the 1950s and '60s.
Hannah Rothschild: The Baroness. Virago Press. ISBN 978-184408-603-0.