Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mezz, Trotsky and Others

As some of you will know, I am always on the lookout for obscure, (preferably) jazz-related pieces of historical trivia. I know, for instance, that the ghost-writer of clarinetist / dope-fiend Mezz Mezzrow's extraordinary jive-talk 'autobiography' (actually, a load of entertaining but self-serving garbage) "Really the Blues" was one Bernard Wolf, who's other main claim to fame was working with Leon Trotsky on *his* autobography, "My Life". Mezz and Trotsky: what a combination!

But can anyone explain this (from "Jazzbeat" magazine's "56th Anniversary Special Issue 2005 - but only just received by Yours Truly), in response to a letter about US (official) Communists' enthusiasm for George Lewis and Bunk Johnson in the 1940's and 50's?

A"Basically Starr's hypothesis was that the American communists felt that by embracing "folk music" they could attract new supporters. This began as early as the late 1930's when a communist front organisation , The New Masses, sponsored the Spirituals to Swing Concert after John Hammond failed to get the support he'd expected from the NACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored people - JD).

"Starr's theory also included early connections between Al Rose and Lary Borenstein and Leon Trotsky"

A "Google" search failed to come up with any information about Al Rose or Larry Borenstein: so I'm depending upon you lot.


Anonymous Bruce said...

I don't know Rose or Borenstein nor did I know Bernard Wolfe helped Trotsky with 'My Life' (how?) but here are some tangential pieces of information.

Bernard Wolfe wrote a novel 'The Great Prince Died' based on Trotsky's last days in Mexico. Was he there? Was he in the US SWP?

Starr is presumably J. Frederick Starr, author of 'Red and Hot', a history of jazz in the Soviet Union. He played in a trad band and was also principal of Oberlin College, which had a large and famous music department. When I visited a friend there in 1988, I caught the farewell concert of famed modern jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, who had been the professor there in charge of the teaching of jazz. He had obviously seriously fallen out with Starr, not least over jazz styles and he denounced Starr by name at various points during the concert as something of a 'mouldy fig'!

All totally irrelevant to Jim's question, I know. But googling Al Rose found two relevant references, one at which is a review of a book by Al Rose on Storyville, the New Orleans red light district where jazz was nurtured (interestingly Starr points out that the closing of Storyville that led to the wider diffusion of jazz took place at almost exactly the same time as the Russian Revolution - but I digress again...)

Anyhow the review is by a friend of his, one Charles L. Mc Cain, who writes:

"He was a renaissance man: artist, writer, jazz impressario, labor organizer. He fought in the Spanish Civil War and worked with the Quakers to smuggle social democratic leaders out of eastern europe after the soviets took over. He studied under Diego Rivera, knew Trotsky, was a friend and confidant of every great jazz musician of the 20th Century and befriended all of them. I sat in his living room one night while Eubie Blake played the piano. Al wrote his biography and knew him for 50 years. He produced jazz records for the State of Louisina, still much in demand by collectors." There is a picture of him at:

Another reference can be found at: . Search in the page for Trotsky and you will find more about Rose. It also claims that Trotsky's great-nephew and family live (or perhaps, post-Katrina, lived) in New Orleans.

Enough for one morning... I will soon get on Borenstein's case.

I also have stuff to say on jazz and the CPs but that will have to wait. In the meantime you can read my review of a book on jazz and politics in the UK at:

Bruce R

4:49 AM  
Anonymous bruce said...

Another quick google reveals Borenstein to be a 'wily real estate dealer', who bought and sold art and seems to have collected / produced vast amounts of jazz in New Orleans. He was also the founder of Preservation Hall where aged NO musicians play aged jazz.

Nothing to indicate any links to Trotsky, though he had links to Rose. They collaborated in saving early pictures of Storyville brothels, which is an interesting story in itself.


Bruce again

5:04 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...


Get back to me when you've done some research (;-).

That is brilliant, comrade.

BTW, I think I may be wrong about Bernard Wolfe helping Trotsky with "My Life" - I was going from memory, and I remembered that there was a connection with Trotsky in Mexico, but I now think it was the nvel you refer to - "The Great price died", and not trotsky's autobiography "My Life".

Great to hear about Donald Byrd, whose playing (believe it or not) I like very much; and he's now almost forgotten.

By the way: have you ever listened to any of Mezz's records? he's crap on most of them, but usually has good bands - mainly due to the presence of the likes of Sidney Bechet, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Tommy Ladnier and Hot Lips Page.

His tenor sax solo on "When You and I Were Young, Maggie", must be the worst solo ever recorded for public release.

Still: I kinda like him. And I know (and drum for) a clarinet-player who openly admits to *liking* Mezz's playing.

4:07 PM  

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