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Really The Blues Paperback – December 1, 2001

4.8 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Paperback, December 1, 2001
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Editorial Reviews


“American counter-culture classic Really the Blues [is] a stylized oral history that anticipates the Beat novel…Really the Blues is part quixotic adventure novel, part inside-scoop…Mezzrow’s voice is funny, impulsive, full of itself and often spectacularly scatological….Listening to “Mezz” is tremendous fun…the book’s true literary inheritance is its style…one of the great, flawed, jubilant, jive-talking characters of American literature.” —Martin Riker, The Wall Street Journal

“The mighty Mezz was at once the greatest digger, the greatest chronicler, the greatest celebrator of [jazz] culture, as well as being a principal actor on its main stage and contributor of its most characteristic fragrance—the pungent aroma of burning bush.” —Albert Goldman, High Times

“Mezz Mezzrow’s rambunctious enthusiasm for jazz and the world it shaped and defined keeps the pages turning...The lost world of the Jazz Age comes alive in these pages, replete with all the Chi-town bounce and streetwise braggadocio that came with the risqué territory...Mezzrow’s love of the music and the ‘bandid’ lifestyle is palpable and infectious, giving his story a novelistic verve. In many ways, Mezz is the Augie March of jazz.” —Matt Hanson, The Arts Fuse

“As to the books of Bernard Wolfe, his extraordinary imagination, his range of styles and genres, should alone qualify him for a conspicuous role in 20th-century American literature.” —Thomas Berger

Really the Blues returns us...to the roots of rock, to the roots certainly of beat and hence to the beginnings of the sixties counterculture through an extended look into the life of a Jewish boy...who turned his back on the middle class and all it had to offer to blow jazz in ‘more creep joints and speakeasies and dancehalls than the law allows.’ ”—Brooke Horvath, Review of Contemporary Fiction

“An intense, sincere and honest book. It makes all the novels with jazz backgrounds seem as phony as an Eddie Condon concert.”—Bucklin Moon, The New Republic
“An autobiography such as was never seen before beneath the moon.”—Ben Ray Redman, The American Mercury --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mezz Mezzrow (1899–1972) was born Milton Mesirow in Chicago to a Jewish family “as respectable as Sunday morning.” As a teenager, however, he was sent to Pontiac Reformatory for stealing a car; there he learned to play the saxophone and decided to devote his life to the blues. Beginning in the 1920s, he had an intermittent career as a sideman in jazz groups, and struck up friendships with many of the greats of the day, including Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. Enamored of African American culture, he helped channel it to whiter and wider audiences, backing and producing significant recordings by Frankie Newton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Bechet, and Tommy Ladnier, among others, and helping to spark the New Orleans revival of the late 1930s. In the 1940s, Mezzrow started his own record label, King Jazz Records. He spent the last years of his life in Paris.

Bernard Wolfe (1915–1985) was born in New Haven and attended Yale University, where he studied psychology. An active member of the labor movement, he moved to Mexico for eight months in 1937 to work as personal secretary and assistant to Leon Trotsky. In subsequent years, Wolfe held disparate jobs—from serving in the Merchant Marines to working as a pornographic novelist to editing Mechanix Illustrated—while writing fiction and science fiction. His best-known work is the 1959 novel The Great Prince Died, a fictional account of Trotsky’s assassination. Among his other books are The Late Risers, In Deep, Limbo, and Logan’s Gone.

Ben Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic for The New York Times since 1996 and has written four books including The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music and Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. His latest book is Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Citadel Underground; Reissue edition (December 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806512059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806512051
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow was a white jewish kid who was born in Chicago in 1899. In his late teens he discovered the jazz music that was being played around the south side of Chicago in those days. "Mezz" fell in love with the sound of early jazz and with the excitement of the music scene. Chicago was a jazz center then, and Mezzrow heard many of the great pioneers of the music including Freddie Keppard, Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong and many others. Soon he bought a clarinet and began trying to play like his heroes.
The club owners who employed Mezzrow were prohibition era gangsters including Al Capone. The gangsters were interesting louts. Capone once wanted Mezzrow to fire a girl singer who was developing a romantic relationship with Capone's younger brother. Capone said, "she can't sing anyway." Mezzrow was so upset that he told Capone, "why, you couldn't even tell good whisky if you smelled it and that's your racket, so how do you figure to tell me about music." (sic) Feisty!
Mezzrow wrote this book in 1946, and he uses 20's era slang to tell his story. This is as groovie as a 10 cent movie, jack. It's also fun.
Mezzrow's maniacal enthusiasm for early jazz is endearing. Not many people who were actually present at the time considered jazz music to be important enough to write books about. Part of Mezzrow's purpose is to convince the reader that jazz music is important. One of the earlier reviewers compares Mezzrow's book unfavorably to Louis Armstrong's autobiography, Satchmo. Armstong's book is good, but Mezzrow's book is more honest than Armstrong's. Armstrong was born into dire poverty. His mother may have been a prostitute, and he was placed in an orphanage at an early age.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Often considered a highly unreliable autobiography, 'Really the Blues' is really an insight into the personality of Mezz Mezzrow rather than a factual retelling of his life events. Milton 'Mezz' Mesirow was a Jewish-American jazz clarinetist born in 1899 in Chicago. Mezz quickly showed a penchant for jazz music, like his mentor Louis Armstrong, for whom he briefly may have served as manager.

Although Milton "Mezz" Mesirow is generally remembered as one of the best jazz musicians, Mesirow was in-fact a very technically skilled clarinetist and quite knowledgable about the workings of the jazz music industry. Milton's life was often a product of the demands of the music industry which he found himself.

His personality could best be viewed as a reflection of the rough-and-tumble environment of mob-controlled, Prohibition-era Chicago. Due to the uncertainty of the circumstances abound, Mezz was a fearless rebel-rouser. He took risks, such as smuggling some twenty joints into a New York night club. He was stopped and caught by the police, a violation for which he was arrested and taken to jail. When he arrived, Mezzrow successfully persuaded the officials to let him stay in a black section of the segregated prison by convincing them that he was African American.

In addition to music, race-relations emerges as a theme in the autobiography. Mezz married a black woman, played music like a black person, and was more interested in black culture than in white culture. Mezz also dealt marijuana in spades. His marijuana dealing perhaps earned him higher distinction than his jazz playing. In the lingo of the time, "Mezz" became slang for marijuana. Milton also gained the nickname "Muggles King," at the time "muggles" being a slang word for marijuana.
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Format: Paperback
I was just lucky enough to be given a batch of discarded books on music because I teach a course in music appreciation. I thumbed thru the box and stumbled across Really the Blues, printed 1946, first edition, great condition. What started out as a simply read turned into an obsession and I read the entire book in two settings. It is a journey that few people have ever taken and even fewer have written about. The lingo alone is worth the price of the book. For those who have ever wondered what the smell of jazz was like in the 20s-30s and 40s, read this book. It rips at your sense of justice, morality, and involvement in the human race. Milton Mezzrow gets my vote for one of the top spots in american music history as well as one of the top spots among those who have given back to the world much more than they ever took. The book smolders with intensity and describes a journey into ones self that takes the reader from the recording studios of Harlem, across the world of music, into the flophouses and whorehouses that featured jazz in the early years, on thru jails, prisons, and work gangs. The life and times of Milton Mezzrow should under no circumstances be left out of the history of jazz. I found it satifying to hear that in slang Mezz has come to mean the best as this is surely the best story that I have read in so long that it defies comparison to anything that I can remember. If you do not read another book for the remainder of the year, when this one is available, grab it, a slightly warm beer and find a very comfortable spot to enter a world that reads like science fiction and yet is indeed music fact. Good reading and enjoy the beer too.
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