Charles Buddy Bolden
|Birth name||Charles Joseph Bolden|
|Born||September 6, 1877|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||November 4, 1931 (aged 54)|
Jackson, Louisiana, U.S.
Charles Joseph "Buddy" Bolden (September 6, 1877 – November 4, 1931) was an American cornetist who was regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of ragtime music, or "jass", which later came to be known as jazz.
Bolden's father, Westmore Bolden, worked as a "driver" for William Walker, the former master of Buddy's grandfather Gustavus Bolden (who died in 1866) at the time of Buddy's birth; his mother, Alice (née Harris), was 18 on August 14, 1873, when she married Westmore (who was around 25 at the time, as records indicate he was 19 in August 1866). His father died when Buddy was six, after which the boy lived with his mother and family members. In records of the period the family name is variously spelled Bolen, Bolding, Boldan, and Bolden, thus complicating research. Buddy likely attended Fisk School in New Orleans, though evidence is circumstantial, as early records of this and other local schools are missing.
Bolden was known as "King" Bolden (see Jazz royalty), and his band was popular in New Orleans from around 1900 to 1907. He was known for his loud sound and improvisational skills, and his style had an impact on younger musicians. Bolden's trombonist Willie Cornish (among others) recalled making phonograph cylinder recordings with the Bolden band, but there are no known surviving copies.
Many early jazz musicians credited Bolden and his bandmates with having originated what came to be known as jazz, though the term was not in common musical use until after the era of Bolden's prominence. At least one writer has labeled Bolden the father of jazz. He is credited with creating a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and adding blues; Bolden's band was said to be the first to have brass instruments play the blues. He was also said to have adapted ideas from gospel music heard in uptown African-American Baptist churches.
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. Joe "King" Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, and other early New Orleans jazz musicians were directly inspired by his playing.
No known recordings of Bolden have survived. His trombonist Willy Cornish asserted that Bolden's band had made at least one phonograph cylinder in the late 1890s. Three other old-time New Orleans musicians, George Baquet, Alphonse Picou and Bob Lyons also remembered a recording session ("Turkey in the Straw", according to Baquet) in the early 1900s. The researcher Tim Brooks believes that these cylinders, if they existed, may have been privately recorded for local music dealers and were never commercially distributed.
Some of the songs first associated with his band, such as the traditional song "Careless Love" and "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It", are still standards. Bolden often closed his shows with the original number "Get Out of Here and Go Home", although for more "polite" gigs, the last number would be "Home! Sweet Home!".
One of the most famous Bolden numbers is "Funky Butt" (later known as "Buddy Bolden's Blues"), which represents one of the earliest references to the concept of funk in popular music. Bolden's "Funky Butt" was, as Danny Barker once put it, a reference to the olfactory effect of an auditorium packed full of sweaty people "dancing close together and belly rubbing." "Funky Butt" was one of many in the Bolden repertory with rude or off-color lyrics popular in some of the rougher places where he played; Bolden's trombonist Willy Cornish claimed authorship. It became so well known as a rude song that even whistling the melody on a public street was considered offensive. The melody was incorporated into an early published ragtime number, "St. Louis Tickle."
Bolden is also credited with the invention of the "Big Four", a key rhythmic innovation on the marching band beat, which gave embryonic jazz much more room for individual improvisation. As Wynton Marsalis explains, the big four (below) was the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march. The second half of the Big Four is the pattern commonly known as the hambone rhythm developed from sub-Saharan African music traditions.
Physical and mental decline
Bolden suffered an episode of acute alcoholic psychosis in 1907 at age 30. With the full diagnosis of dementia praecox (today called schizophrenia), he was admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson, a mental institution, where he spent the rest of his life.
Further life and legend
While there is substantial first-hand oral history about Bolden, facts about his life continue to be lost amidst colorful myth. Stories about his 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.
Tributes to Bolden
- Sidney Bechet wrote and composed "Buddy Bolden Stomp" in Bolden's honor.
- Duke Ellington paid tribute to Bolden in his 1957 suite A Drum Is a Woman. The trumpet part was taken by Clark Terry.
- The Bolden band tune "Funky Butt", better known as "Buddy Bolden's Blues" since it was first recorded under that title by Jelly Roll Morton, alternatively titled "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say," has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Dr. John, on his album Goin' Back to New Orleans, and Hugh Laurie, on his album Let Them Talk.
- "Hey, Buddy Bolden" is a song on the album Nina Simone Sings Ellington.
- Wynton Marsalis speaks about Bolden in an introduction and performs "Buddy Bolden" on his album Live at the Village Vanguard.
- The Buddyprisen, or Buddy Award, is the prime award honoring Norwegian jazz musicians.
- Hop Along wrote "Buddy in the Parade" as a tribute to Bolden.
- Malachi Thompson recorded Buddy Bolden's Rag in 1995.
Bolden has inspired a number of fictional characters with his name.
- The Canadian author Michael Ondaatje wrote a novel Coming Through Slaughter, which features a "Buddy Bolden" character who in some ways resembles Bolden, but in other ways is deliberately contrary to what is known about him.
- The character of Buddy Bolden helps Samuel Clemens solve a murder in Peter J. Heck's novel, A Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court (1996).
- Bolden is featured as a prominent character in David Fulmer's murder mystery Chasing the Devil's Tail, in which he is a bandleader and a suspect in the murders. He also appears by reputation or in person in Fulmer's other books.
- He is a notable character in Louis Maistros' novel The Sound of Building Coffins, which contains many scenes depicting Bolden playing his cornet.
- In Tiger Rag, Nicholas Christopher tells the story of Bolden and the lost cylinders he recorded with his group.
Plays and films
- Bolden is featured in August Wilson's play Seven Guitars. Wilson's drama includes the character King Hedley, whose father named him after King Buddy Bolden. King Hedley constantly sings, "I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say..." and believes that Bolden will come down and bring him money to buy a plantation.
- Wilson's King Hedley II continues the story of Seven Guitars, and also refers to Bolden.
- A biopic about Bolden with mythical elements, titled Bolden!, was released in 2019 and written, directed by Dan Pritzker. Gary Carr portrays Bolden. 
- During the 1980s an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel Coming Through Slaughter was staged at Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theater. Music was scored by Steven Provizer and the production was directed by Tim McDonough.
- In 2011, Interact Theater in Minneapolis created a new musical theater piece entitled Hot Jazz at da Funky Butt in which Bolden was the feature character. The music and lyrics were by Aaron Gabriel and featured the New Orleans Band "Rue Fiya". The song "Dat's How Da Music Do Ya" featured the Buddy Bolden Blues.
- An immersive music-theater piece called Playing Hot was presented by Pipeline Theater Company in New York City in 2016, with an Off-Broadway production slated for spring 2019. Playing Hot was created by Kevin Armento and Jaki Bradley.
- A three channel video installation, "Precarity", was created by the British experimental filmmaker John Akomfrah in 2017 as a commissioned piece for the Ogden Museum and the Nasher Museum exploring themes related to the life of Buddy Bolden.
- Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden. p. 11–18.
- Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden. p. 19.
- Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden. pp. 29–30.
- Greenberg, Blue, "New exhibit on jazz 'King' Buddy Bolden at Duke's Nasher Museum is a story of the South", The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), May 21, 2018
- see Donald M. Marquis: In Search of Buddy Bolden, p.107: "... on that fabled cylinder, according to Willie Cornish, they [Buddy Bolden's band] had recorded a couple of marches." In the 2005 epilogue to the book (p.158-159) Marquis also discusses these recordings that have not been found. On pages 44-45 of the same book the question is discussed in detail. Marquis concludes: "That the cylinder was made is quite believable; that it is gone forever is even more believable..." (p. 44)
- Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. Oxford/ and New York, 1997. p. 34.
- Daniel Hardie, The Loudest Trumpet: Buddy Bolden and the Early History of Jazz (Self-published using iUniverse, 2000), 86-87. ISBN 9781583486078
- Barlow, William. "Looking Up At Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture. Temple University Press (1989), pp. 188-91. ISBN 0-87722-583-4.
- Donald M. Marquis, In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, 2nd ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005). ISBN 9780807130933
- "Two Films Unveil a Lost Jazz Legend". National Public Radio. December 15, 2007. Retrieved April 14, 2008.
By most accounts, a mix of alcohol and mental illness sent Bolden into an asylum in 1907; he stayed there until his death in 1931.
- "What Is the Big Four Beat? - Jazz & More". Jazz.nuvvo.com. November 24, 2008. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "Jazz and Math: Rhythmic Innovations", PBS.org. The Wikipedia example shown in half time, compared to the source.
- Marsalis, Wynton. Jazz. (DVD, n. 1). 2000. PBS.
- See Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden. pp. 58, 92: "In asking questions about Bolden, if the barbershop, the Cricket, girls, loudness, and "Funky Butt" are all that is mentioned, one can surmise that rather than actually having known Bolden the person has merely read Jazzman" (the rather inaccurate account, as Marquis proves, by Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsay Jr., the editors of that book; see Marquis, pp. 3–4).
- "Hop Along's 'Painted Shut' Invokes Two Mysterious Musicians". NPR.org. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
- Heck, Peter J. (1996). A Connecticut Yankee in criminal court : a Mark Twain mystery (1st ed.). New York: Berkeley Prime Crime. ISBN 0-425-15470-X. OCLC 33439081.
- "CDTPraise". Davidfulmer.com. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "Welcome". Louis Maistros. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (May 28, 2014). "Seven Years After Production Began, Dan Pritzker's 'Bolden' Skeds New Shoot, Sans Star Anthony Mackie". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
- Provizer, Steven. "Madness and Creativity: on Buddy Bolden and Staging "Coming Through Slaughter"". The Syncopated Times. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Barker, Danny, 1998, Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville. New York: Continuum. p. 31.
- Marquis, Donald (September 2005). In Search Of Buddy Bolden: First Man Of Jazz. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-3093-1.