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The Blues Backstory
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Mezz (Milton) Mezzrow
Really the Blues (NY:  Barnes and Noble, 2009 (reprint of original 1946 edition by Mezzrow with 1948 comments and essay by Wolfe).  433p.)

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This is Mezzrow's own account of his early life, musical influences, bands he played with and led, and the development of blues/jazz from his involvement in the early days.  Mezzrow represents a huge gap in my knowledge of the development of jazz and blues, which this book has now filled.

Mezzrow was a Polish-American Jew who became fascinated with the creative sounds arising out of the Southern black cultural music we know as blues, now loved around the world.  He moved in the black circles, culturally and musically, in a time when social segregation drew high walls around the rich sub-culture and tried to discount and discourage acceptance of the black music influences in the early 20th century.

This is an excellent first-hand introduction to jazz as it was developing from Dixieland New Orleans and the Chicago off-shoot that arose under Mezzrow's influence.  He recounts how common terms related to music, jazz and jive culture of the 1920s-30s developed.  Mezzrow is honest about the hold drugs got on the developing music industry for the inner-city crime syndicates of Chicago.

Mezzrow was the person who mentored Gene Krupa and other jazz greats.  He was a good friend of Louis Armstrong, and in 1931 was hired by Louis as his musical director for recording sessions.  Mezzrow organized a top studio band for Armstrong's national live radio show.  He engaged Alex Hill, the top black arranger, as the arranger and leader for the new band he organized.  This broke another barrier in society and music.

Alex was able to develop big band arrangements, but maintain the style and format of the original New Orleans-Chicago format Louis was known for and Mezzrow as committed to promote.  He details the movement of big-band jazz away for the original improvisation and small-group synthesis that combined composition and performance.

This was an exciting and rewarding saga of the seamy as well as the glorious side of American music in the 20th century.  Thanks for Barnes and Noble for their attention to classics of culture and history, in this series “Barnes and Noble Rediscovers.”

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Bono Live on Music and Life
[text] Cool Blues Wailer
[review] Jazz Notes:  Faith as Hilarious Adventure
[reviews] Music, Race and Society
[text] Music – A Life Summary
[review] Searching for Identity
[Review] Texas Roots in American Music
[Review] Mistitled and Misfocused: A Review of Why I Left Contemporary Music

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Initial review written 22 January 2011
Reviewed on Amazon 31 January 2011
This version posted on Thoughts and Resources 29 June 2011
Last edited 1 December 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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