Mezz Mezzrow

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.