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Mezz Mezzrow

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Milton Mesirow, better known as Mezz Mezzrow (9 November 1899–5 August 1972) was a Jewish American jazz clarinetist and saxophonist from Chicago, Illinois.[1] Mezzrow is well-known for organizing and financing historic recording sessions with Tommy Ladnier and Sidney Bechet. Mezzrow also recorded a number of times with Bechet and briefly acted as manager for Louis Armstrong. However, he is remembered as much for being a colorful character in his autobiography Really The Blues as for his music. It takes its title from a musical piece by Sidney Bechet. The book was co-written by Bernard Wolfe and first published in 1946.

Music career

Mezzrow has never been ranked as one of the best jazz musicians (some critics have ranked his musical abilities as below mediocre) , but he organized and took part in some magnificent recording sessions involving the very best black musicians of the 1930s/40s, including Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton, Tommy Ladnier and - most importantly - Sidney Bechet. Mezzrow's superb 1938 sessions for the French jazz critic Hugues Panassie involved Bechet and Ladnier and helped spark the 'New Orleans revival'.

In the mid-1940s Mezz started his own record label, King Jazz Records, featuring himself in groups that usually included Sidney Bechet and, often, trumpeter Oran 'Hot Lips' Page. The results were excellent, mainly because of Mezzrow's top-rank musical partners and also because most of the material was twelve or sixteen-bar blues sequences - and Mezzrow, for all his limitations, knew how to play the blues. Mezzrow also can be found and heard playing on six recordings by Fats Waller. He appeared at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival and was a surprise hit.

Following that, he made his home in France and organized many bands that included French musicians like Claude Luter, as well as visiting Americans such as Buck Clayton, Peanuts Holland, Jimmy Archey, Kansas Fields and even Lionel Hampton. In 1953, in Paris with ex-Basie trumpeter Buck Clayton, he made what is probably his best ever recording: a version of the Louis Armstrong classic "West End Blues" on which his mastery of the blues idiom eclipses his technical limitations on the clarinet.

Personal life

Mezz Mezzrow became better-known for his drug-dealing than his musical prowess. In his time, he was so well-known in the jazz community for selling marijuana that "Mezz" became slang for marijuana. He was also known as the "Muggles King," the word "muggles" (also the title of a famous 1928 Louis Armstrong recording), being slang for marijuana at that time.

Mezzrow praised and admired the African-American style. In his autobiography Really The Blues, Mezzrow writes that from the moment he heard jazz he "was going to be a Negro musician, hipping [teaching] the world about the blues the way only Negroes can."

Mezzrow married a black woman, Mae (also known as Johnnie Mae), moved to Harlem, and declared himself a "voluntary Negro." In 1940 he was caught by the police to be in possession of sixty joints trying to enter a jazz club at the New York World's Fair, with intent to distribute. When he was sent to jail, he insisted to the guards that he was black and was transferred to the segregated prison's black section. He wrote (in Really the Blues):

"Just as we were having our pictures taken for the rogues' gallery, along came Mr. Slattery the deputy and I nailed him and began to talk fast. 'Mr. Slattery,' I said, 'I'm colored, even if I don't look it, and I don't think I'd get along in the white blocks, and besides, there might be some friends of mine in Block Six and they'd keep me out of trouble'. Mr. Slattery jumped back, astounded, and studied my features real hard. He seemed a little relieved when he saw my nappy head. 'I guess we can arrange that,' he said. 'Well, well, so you're Mezzrow. I read about you in the papers long ago and I've been wondering when you'd get here. We need a good leader for our band and I think you're just the man for the job'. He slipped me a card with 'Block Six' written on it. I felt like I'd got a reprieve."

Mezzrow was lifelong friends with French jazz critic Hugues Panassié and consequently spent the last 20 years of his life in Paris. Mezzrow's autobiography, Really the Blues, co-authored by Bernard Wolfe and published in 1946 may prove to be his most important legacy: a picaresque and amusing insight into the jazz world of the late 1920s.

Eddie Condon said of him (We Called It Music, London; Peter Davis 1948): "When he fell through the Mason-Dixie line he just kept going".


This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Mezz Mezzrow. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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