Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Really the Blues
by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe, introduction by Ben Ratliff
Mezz Mezzrow was a boy from Chicago who learned to play the sax in reform school and pursued a life in music and a life of crime. He moved from Chicago to New Orleans to New York, working in brothels and bars, bootlegging, dealing drugs, getting hooked, doing time, producing records, and playing with the greats, among them Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Fats Waller. Really the Blues, the jive-talking memoir that Mezzrow wrote at the insistence of, and with the help of, the novelist Bernard Wolfe, is the story of an unusual and unusually American life, and a portrait of a man who moved freely across racial boundaries when few could or did, “the odyssey of an individualist . . . the saga of a guy who wanted to make friends in a jungle where everyone was too busy making money.”
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.
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