Baroness Pannonica “Nica” de Koenigswarter was a wealthy jazz enthusiast who befriended and supported Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others.
Nica knew all the great New York jazzmen and helped them, whether by buying groceries, acting as an occasional ambulance service, paying overdue rent, getting musicians’ instrument out of hock or making hospital visits.
She was born Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild in late 1913, the fourth child of banker and naturalist Charles Rothschild (of the Rothschild family) and Hungarian baroness Rozsika Edle von Wertheimstein.
The story behind her second middle name isn’t quite clear.
At the beginning of this live recording of his song “Pannonica” [vid], Thelonious Monk says, “I think her father gave her that name after a butterfly that he tried to catch. I don’t think he caught the butterfly.”
Nica’s great niece Hannah Rothschild says it wasn’t a butterfly, but a rare type of moth, Eublemma pannonica.
According to The Gallery at Hermès, which exhibited some of Pannonica’s photographs in 2008, she was “named for a wild plant of eastern Europe’s Pannonia Plain, noted as a habitat of moths – which were a passion of her father’s.”
The specifics of Pannonica’s name story may not be known, but any species called “pannonica” would indeed be endemic to the Pannonian Plain in east-central Europe. The Plain was named after the ancient Roman province Pannonia, which in turn was named after the Pannonians of Illyria.
Nica de Koenigswarter passed away in 1988, but her name lives on the titles of several jazz songs including “Pannonica” by Monk (mentioned above), “Nica’s Tempo” [vid] by Gigi Gryce, “Nica Steps Out” by Freddie Redd and “Nica’s Dream” by Horace Silver.
It also lives on in the name of a great-granddaughter, Pannonica Fabien “Nica” de Koenigswarter, born in 1987. (And this Pannonica has a younger brother fittingly named Jonah Thelonius.)