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Mezzrow, Mezz

Biography

Milton Mesirow, better known as Mezz Mezzrow (November 9, 1899 – August 5, 1972) was an American jazz clarinetist and saxophonist from Chicago, Illinois. 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. Mezzrow organized and took part in recording sessions involving black musicians in the 1930s and 1940s including Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton, Tommy Ladnier and Sidney Bechet. Mezzrow's 1938 sessions for the French jazz critic Hugues Panassie involved Bechet and Ladnier and helped spark the 'New Orleans revival'. In the mid-1940s Mezzrow started his own record label, King Jazz Records, featuring himself in groups that usually included Sidney Bechet and, often, trumpeter Oran 'Hot Lips' Page. Mezzrow also can be found and heard playing on six recordings by Fats Waller. He appeared at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival. 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 Lionel Hampton. In 1953, in Paris with ex-Basie trumpeter Buck Clayton, he made a recording of the Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues." Mezzrow became better-known for his drug-dealing than his music. In his time, he was so well known in the jazz community for selling marijuana that "Mezz" became slang for marijuana, a reference used in the Stuff Smith song, "If You're a Viper". He was also known as the "Muggles King," the word "muggles" being slang for marijuana at that time; the title of the 1928 Louis Armstrong recording "Muggles" refers to this. 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, New York, 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 1939 New York World's Fair, with intent to distribute. Mezzrow was lifelong friends with French jazz critic Hugues Panassié and spent the last 20 years of his life in Paris. Mezzrow's autobiography, Really the Blues, was co-authored by Bernard Wolfe and published in 1946. 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".




Recordings

Bechet, Sidney / Mezzrow, Mezz: The King Jazz Records Story

To Mezz Mezzrow, King Jazz was more than a record label. It was the crystallization of his abiding passion for early forms of jazz, a music he saw as a blues-drenched cry of freedom wafting across the waters from New Orleans. It had spread far beyond the bayou and taken on new forms, but Mezz was the self-appointed keeper of the flame and his post-war record business venture was the mason jar that would forever preserve its goodness. Here, the colorful curator teams up for a series of classic collaborations with an undisputed master of improvisation,  his idol, Sidney Bechet. Their work alone would make this 5-CD boxed set a special release, but there is much more to savor, for it combines for the first times the entire output of the King Jazz label, an eclectic mix of performances by people whose names are also a part of the music’s rich legacy. Add to that, careful remastering, an informative illustrated booklet, and Mezzrow’s spo...