In the mid-1940s Mezz started his own record label, King Jazz Records, featuring himself in groups that usually included Sidney Bechet and, often, trumpeter Oran 'Hot Lips' Page. The results were excellent, mainly because of Mezzrow's top-rank musical partners and also because most of the material was twelve or sixteen-bar blues sequences - and Mezzrow, for all his limitations, knew how to play the blues. Mezz also can be found and heard playing on six recordings by Fats Waller. He appeared at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival and was a surprise hit. Following that, he made his home in France and organized many bands that included French musicians like Claude Luter, as well as visiting Americans such as Buck Clayton, Peanuts Holland, Jimmy Archey, Kansas Fields and even Lionel Hampton.
In 1953, in Paris with ex-Basie trumpeter Buck Clayton, he made what is probably his best ever recording: a version of the Louis Armstrong classic "West End Blues" on which his mastery of the blues idiom eclipses his technical limitations on the clarinet.
Mezzrow praised and admired the African-American style. In his autobiography Really The Blues, Mezzrow writes that from the moment he heard jazz he "was going to be a Negro musician, hipping [teaching] the world about the blues the way only Negroes can."
Mezzrow married a black woman, Mae (also known as Johnnie Mae), moved to Harlem, and declared himself a "voluntary Negro." In 1940 he was caught by the police to be in possession of sixty joints trying to enter a jazz club at the New York World's Fair, with intent to distribute. When he was sent to jail, he insisted to the guards that he was black and was transferred to the segregated prison's black section. He wrote (in Really the Blues):
"Just as we were having our pictures taken for the rogues' gallery, along came Mr. Slattery the deputy and I nailed him and began to talk fast. 'Mr. Slattery,' I said, 'I'm colored, even if I don't look it, and I don't think I'd get along in the white blocks, and besides, there might be some friends of mine in Block Six and they'd keep me out of trouble'. Mr. Slattery jumped back, astounded, and studied my features real hard. He seemed a little relieved when he saw my nappy head. 'I guess we can arrange that,' he said. 'Well, well, so you're Mezzrow. I read about you in the papers long ago and I've been wondering when you'd get here. We need a good leader for our band and I think you're just the man for the job'. He slipped me a card with 'Block Six' written on it. I felt like I'd got a reprieve."
Mezzrow was lifelong friends with French jazz critic Hugues Panassié and consequently spent the last 20 years of his life in Paris. Mezzrow's autobiography, Really the Blues, co-authored by Bernard Wolfe and published in 1946 may prove to be his most important legacy: a picaresque and amusing insight into the jazz world of the late 1920s.
Eddie Condon said of him (We Called It Music, London; Peter Davis 1948): "When he fell through the Mason-Dixie line he just kept going".
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