Three decades before Norman Mailer in 1957 drew attention to the social phenomenon of the "white negro," Mezz Mezzrow claimed to be just that. To use his own terminology, he was "a voluntary negro."
Actually an American Jew, he played clarinet in the 1930s and 40s, often, as here, alongside Sidney Bechet. He supplemented his meager earnings as a musician by supplying marijuana to fellow jazzmen, includingfamouslyLouis Armstrong. He sold so much that for a while a joint came to be known in Harlem as a "mezz."
When the law caught up with Mezzrow and he was jailed, he insisted on serving his time in the prison's negro wing. An autobiography, "Really The Blues," documenting his experiences, became a bestseller.
He achieved a measure of respectability, when from 1945-47 he became "Mezz the Prez," head of a New York-based record company, King Jazz, the entire catalog of which is re-released here as a magnificent five-CD box set by Storyville Records, of Copenhagen.
The 117 tracks include alternate takes and spoken introductions and explanations by the man himself. The jazz is that which Mezzrow called "authentic." By which he meant the New Orleans blues-based variety, as opposed to bebop, which was starting to gain ground at the time. The collection also includes a never before issued version of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" by an unknown harmonica player, found in the King Jazz archives.
The first 15 tracks on the first CD are given over to pianist Sammy Price, climaxing with two numbers featuring the New Orleans blues singer Pleasant Joe. In the numbers that follow Price shares the piano stool with Fitz Weston and Wesley "Sox" Wilson. The diverse Mezzrow- Bechet line-ups feature such legends of New Orleans jazz as George "Pops" Foster (bass) and Warren "Baby" Dodds (drums), while on 17 tracks the ebullient Oran "Lips" Page plays trumpet.
Mezzrow, who is often belittled as a musician, holds his own remarkably well in such fast company and on "Baby, I'm Cuttin' Out," which he penned with Douglas Daniels, shows he was no slouch as a songwriter... if, as president, he didn't fake the credit. Such jiggery-pokery was commonplace at the time.
Mezzrow was less of a "moldy fig" than a great many other traditionalists. On the third CD he admits that the 12-bar format can sound repetitive, but says this is a result of "only listening on the surface."
These recordings clearly illustrate the symbiosis between early jazz and the blues. Featuring more than five hours of music, the set is a "must have" for anyone interested in jazz history.
CD1: In A Mezz, Mezzrow Talks; Those Mellow Blues; Gully Low Blues;
Cow Cow Blues; 133rd Street Boogie; Mezzrow Talks; I Finally Gotcha;
Boogin' With Mezz; Callin' 'Em Home; Step Down, Step Up; Shakin' Loose
(2 takes); Broken Man Blues; New Jailhouse Blues; House Party (2
takes); Perdido Street Stomp (two takes); Revolutionary Blues (2
takes); Mezzrow Talks; Blood On The Moon; Levee Blues; Mezzrow Talks;
Layin' My Rules In Blues; Bad, Bad Baby Blues (2 takes).
CD 2: Mezzrow Talks; Saw Mill Blues; Minor Swoon (3 takes); The Sheik
Of Araby (2 takes); Boogin' With Big Sid; Mezzrow Talks; Baby I'm
Cuttin' Out (3 takes); Ole Miss (2 takes); Mezzrow Talks; Bowin' The
Blues (2 takes); Jelly Roll (4 takes); Perdido Street Stomp (2 takes);
32 Bars of Blues; Forgotten Harmony; Revolutionary Blues.
CD3: Mezzrow Talks; Gone Away Blues; De Luxe Stomp; Mezzrow Talks; Out
Of The Gallion (3 takes); Mezzrow Talks; Breathless Blues; Mezzrow
Talks; Really The Blues Part 1 (2 takes); Really The Blues Part 2 (2
takes); Evil Gal Blues; Mezzrow Talks; Fat Mama Blues; Mezzrow Talks;
Mezzrow Talks; You Got To Give It To Me; Hey Daddy Blues; Whoop This
Wolf Away From My Door (3 takes); Mezzrow Talks; You Can't Do That To
Me; Groovin The Minor (2 takes).
CD4: Where Am I? (3 takes); Mezzrow Talks; Tommy's Blues (2 takes);
Chicago Function Part 1 (2 takes); Chicago Function Part 2 (2 takes);
Mezzrow Talks; I Want Some (2 takes); Mezzrow Talks; I'm Speaking My
Mind (3 takes).
CD5: I'll Never Forget The Blues (2 takes); Mezzrow Talks; The Blues
And Freud (2 takes); Kaiser's Last Break (2 takes); I'm Goin' Away
From Here (2 takes); I Got You Some; I Must Have My Boogie; Funky Butt
(2 takes); Delta Moon (2 takes); Mezzrow Talks; Blues Of The Roaring
Twenties (2 takes); Caravan.
Sidney Bechet: soprano saxophone; Mezz Mezzrow: clarinet; Oran "Lips"
Page: trumpet; Sammy Price, Fitz Weston, Wesley "Sox" Wilson: piano;
Danny Barker: guitar; George "Pops" Foster, Wellman Braud: bass; Sidney
"Big Sid" Catlett, Kaiser Marshall, Warren "Baby" Dodds: drums; Pleasant
Joe, Douglas Daniels, Coot Grant: vocals.