Mezz Mezzrow on Mencken

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Thanks to Robert Bennett who alerted us to the Mezzrow-Mencken connection and now has pdf’ed me the pages in Mezzrow’s book that are relevant. It makes interesting reading concerning freedom and jazz:

“There was a revolution simmering in Chicago, led by a gang of pink-cheeked high-school kids. These rebels in plus-fours, huddled on a bandstand instead of a soap-box, passed out riffs instead of hand-bills, but the effect was the same. Their jazz was only a musical version of the hard-cutting broadsides that two foxy studs named Mencken and Nathan were beginning to shoot at Joe Public in the pages of the American Mercury — a collectively improvised nose-thumbing at all pillars of all communities, one big syncopated Bronx cheer for the righteous squares everywhere. Jazz was the only language they could find to preach their fire-eating message.”

The Chicago musical gang was the Austin High Gang.

“It was little Dave [Tough] who gave me a knockdown to George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken, two guys who could mess with the King’s English too. Dave used to read The American Mercury from cover to cover, especially the section called “Americana” where all the bluenoses, bigots, and two-faced killjoys in this land-of-the-free got a going-over they never forgot. That Mercury really got to be the Austin High Gang’s Bible. It looked to us like Mencken was yelling the same message in his magazine that we were trying to get across in our music; his words were practically lyrics to our hot jazz.”

10:57 am on November 9, 2012