Back when Jewish clarinetists such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were becoming giants of the swing era, their lesser-known co-religionist Mezz Mezzrow (born Milton Mesirow), was honing his own reputation as a gadabout session player and producer with the likes of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet.
Mezzrow was celebrated as a marijuana supplier as he was a musician —and quality pot was sometimes called “Mezz” in his honor. His 1946 autobiography, “Really the Blues,” co-written with science fiction author and one-time Trotsky secretary and bodyguard Bernard Wolfe, is one of the most colorful accounts of the 1920s jazz world.
That such a book could fall out of print in the first place is tragic, but at least “Really the Blues” has now been republished by the new Barnes & Noble Rediscovers series.
In addition to “Really the Blues,” the imprint, which counts 33 titles so far, also features books of more overtly Jewish interest. The series also includes Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1935 treatise “Maimonides,” Isaac Rosenfeld’s short story collection “Alpha and Omega” and, most notably, Ronald Sanders’s “The Downtown Jews,” which is essentially a biography of legendary Forward editor Abraham Cahan, and which is back in print for the first time since 1987. Just in time for the 2010 sesquicentennial of Cahan’s birth.