Milton Mesirow, better known as Mezz Mezzrow was born November 9, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois. The clarinetist and saxophonist has never been ranked as one of the best jazz musicians, organizing and taking part in some magnificent recording sessions involving the best black musicians of the 1930s/40s, including Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton, Tommy Ladnier and most importantly Sidney Bechet. His 1938 sessions for the French jazz critic Hugues Panassie, which he is well-known for organizing and financing, involved Bechet and Ladnier and helped spark the “New Orleans revival”.
Mezzrow became better known for his drug-dealing of marijuana than his music. His nicknames “Mezz” and “Muggles” that became slang for marijuana were used in song, the former in the Stuff Smith tune “If You’re A Viper” and the later was the title of a 1928 Louis Armstrong recording and for a brief time was his manager.
In the mid-1940s Mezzrow started his own record label, King Jazz Records, featuring himself in groups that usually included Sidney Bechet and, often, trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page. Mezzrow also can be found and heard playing on six recordings by Fats Waller and his appearance at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival was a surprise hit.
Following that appearance he made his home in Paris, France and organized many bands that included French musicians like Claude Luter, as well as visiting American artists like Peanuts Holland, Jimmy Archey, Kansas Fields, Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton, with whom in 1953 he made what is probably his best ever recording: a version of the Louis Armstrong classic “West End Blues”.
Mezz Mezzrow, clarinetist, saxophonist, author and colorful character died on August 5, 1972 in Paris, France.
Jan Garber was born Jacob Charles Garber on November 5, 1894 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He had his own band by the time he was 21. He became known as “The Idol of the Airwaves” in his heyday of the 1920s and 1930s, playing jazz in the vein of contemporaries such as Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo.
It was during World War II that Garber began playing swing jazz with arranger Gray Rains and vocalist Liz Tilton. However, the recording restrictions in America during the war eventually made his ensemble unfeasible, and he returned to “sweet” music after the war, playing violin with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
Jan formed the Garber-Davis Orchestra with pianist Milton Davis from 1921–1924. After parting with Davis, he formed his own orchestra, playing both “sweet” and “hot” 1920s dance music. He was hit hard by the Great depression and in the thirties he refashioned his ensemble into a big band and recorded a string of successful records for Victor.
Violinist and bandleader Jan Garber continued to lead ensembles nearly up until the time of his death on October 5, 1977 in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Charles “Buddy” Bolden was born on September 6, 1877 in New Orleans, Louisiana and is regarded as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of ragtime music that would later come to be known as jazz.
He was known as “King Bolden” and his band was a top draw in New Orleans from about 1900 until 1907, when he was incapacitated by schizophrenia. He left no known surviving recordings, but he was known for his very loud sound and constant improvisation. Instead of imitating other cornetists, Bolden played music he heard “by ear” and adapted it to his horn. In doing so, he created an exciting and novel fusion of ragtime, black sacred music, marching-band music and rural blues.
He rearranged the typical New Orleans dance band of the time to better accommodate the blues; string instruments became the rhythm section, and the front-line instruments were clarinets, trombones, and Bolden’s cornet. Bolden was known for his powerful, loud, “wide open” playing style.
While there is substantial first hand oral history about Buddy Bolden, facts about his life continue to be lost amongst colorful myth. Stories about him being a barber by trade or that he published a scandal sheet called The Cricket have been repeated in print despite being debunked decades earlier.
Bolden suffered an episode of acute alcoholic psychosis in 1907 at the age of 30. With the full diagnosis of dementia praecox, he was admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson, where he spent the rest of his life until November 4, 1931 at age 54.
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Donald Matthew Redman was born into a musical family on July 29, 1900 in Piedmont, West Virginia. He started playing the trumpet at age 3, joined his first band at 6 and by twelve was proficient on all wind instruments ranging from trumpet to oboe and piano. After studying at Storer’s College in Harper’s Ferry and at the Boston Conservatory, he joined Billy Page’s Broadway Syncopaters in New York.
1922 saw Don joining Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, mostly playing clarinet and saxophones. He soon began writing the bulk of the orchestra’s arrangements, contributing much to formulate the sound that was to become big band swing. The chief trademark of Redman’s arrangements was that he harmonized melody lines and pseudo-solos within separate sections; for example, clarinet, sax, or brass trios. He played these sections off each other, having one section punctuate the figures of another, or moving the melody around different orchestral sections and soloists. His use of this technique was sophisticated, highly innovative, and formed the basis of much big band jazz writing in the following decades.
By 1927 he joined McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in Detroit as their musical director and leader but by 1931 Redman formed his own band and took up residency at Connie’s Inn in Manhattan. Redman’s band recorded for Brunswick Records, provided music for the Betty Boop series, employed singer Harland Lattimore, known as “The Colored Bing Crosby” and wrote arrangements for musicians and bandleaders like Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones and Bing Crosby. By 1940 Redman had disbanded his orchestra, began freelancing writing arrangements that became hits for Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie and Harry James. In 1949 he appeared on CBS’s Uptown Jubilee and in the Fifties became musical director for Pearl Bailey.
Don Redman died in New York City at age 64 on November 30, 1964. His family legacy left us two more generations of jazz musicians, as he was the uncle of saxophonist Dewey Redman, and thus great-uncle of saxophonist Joshua Redman and trumpeter Carlos Redman.
Sidney Bechet was born on May 14, 1897 in New Orleans, Louisiana to a wealthy Creole family. At age six he picked up his brother’s clarinet, learned to play by on his own, eventually playing at a family birthday party exhibited his new talent. Later he would study with renowned Creole clarinetists Lorenzo Tio, Big Eye Louis Nelson and George Baquet. He would be found improvising jazz in many New Orleans ensembles led by John Robichaux, Bunk Johnson and King Oliver.
By the time he was 17 Bechet was touring as far north as Chicago and two years later landed in New York playing with Marion Cook’s Syncopated Orchestra. This led him to Europe and the Royal Philharmonic Hall where he attracted attention with his playing. It was in London that Sidney found the straight soprano and quickly developed a style different from his warm clarinet.
Sidney became one of the first important soloists in jazz, eclipsing Louis Armstrong into the studio by several months, and was possibly the first notable jazz saxophonist. His forceful delivery and well-constructed improvisations characterized his distinctive and wide vibrato playing although his lively and unpredictable temperament did not gain him wide acclaim until well into the late forties.
Returning to New York in 1922 he began recording songs like “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Man’s Blues” with sessions led by pianist and songwriter Clarence Williams. Over the next three decades Bechet continued to record and tour although his success was intermittent. He relocated to France in 1950, got married and shortly before his death dictated his poetic autobiography “Treat It Gentle”. Sidney Bechet, clarinetist, saxophonist and composer died in Garches, France of lung cancer on May 14, 1959, his 62nd birthday.