Charles "Buddy" Bolden (September 6, 1877 – November 4, 1931) was an African American cornetist and is regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of rag-time music which later came to be known as jazz.
He was known as King Bolden (see Jazz royalty), and his band was a top draw in New Orleans (the city of his birth) from about 1900 until 1907, when he was incapacitated by schizophrenia (then called dementia praecox). He left no known surviving recordings, but he was known for his very loud sound and constant improvisation.
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. Reputedly, his father was a teamster.
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, a mental institution, where he spent the rest of his life.
Many early jazz musicians credited Bolden and the members of his band with being the originators of what came to be known as "jazz", though the term was not yet in common musical use until after the era of Bolden's prominence. At least one writer has labeled him the father of jazz. He is credited with creating a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and adding blues to it; Bolden's band was said to be the first to have brass instruments play the blues. He was also said to have taken 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 rag-time, 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.
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. Researcher Tim Brooks believes that these cylinders, if they existed, may have been privately recorded for local music dealers and were never distributed in bulk.
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 a song called "Funky Butt" (known later as "Buddy Bolden's Blues") which represents one of the earliest references to the concept of "funk" in popular music, now a musical subgenre unto itself. 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."  Other musicians closer to Bolden's generation explained that the famous tune actually originated as a reference to flatulence.
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,
Funky-butt, funky-butt, take it away.
The "Funky Butt" song was one of many in the Bolden repertory with rude or off-color lyrics popular in some of the rougher places Bolden played, and 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. However the strain was incorporated into the early published ragtime number "St. Louis Tickle".
Tributes to BoldenEdit
Sidney Bechet wrote and composed "Buddy Bolden Stomp" in his honor.
Dr. John, in the liner notes to his Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992), describes "I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say" (track 5) as "Jelly Roll Morton's memory of a jazz pioneer".
Bolden in fiction Edit
Bolden has inspired a number of fictional characters with his name. Most famously, Canadian author Michael Ondaatje's novel Coming Through Slaughter features a "Buddy Bolden" character that in some ways resembles Bolden, but in other ways is deliberately contrary to what is known about him.
Bolden is also prominent in August Wilson's Seven Guitars. Wilson's drama includes a character (King Hedley) whose father, in the play, deliberately named him after King Buddy Bolden. King Hedley constantly sings, "I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say..." and believes that Buddy Bolden will come down and bring him money to buy a plantation.
Additionally, August Wilson's King Hedley II continues Seven Guitars, thus Bolden continues in the play as well.
Bolden is a prominent character in David Fulmer's murder mystery titled Chasing the Devil's Tail, being not only a bandleader but also a suspect in the murders. He also appears by reputation or in person in Fulmer's other books.
Bolden is the title character in the film Bolden!, which is currently in production. He is being portrayed by Anthony Mackie.
Buddy Bolden helps Samuel Clemens solve a murder in "A Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court," by Peter J. Heck (1996).
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Barlow, William. "Looking Up At Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture. Temple University Press (1989), pp. 188-91. ISBN 0-87722-583-4.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 "Two Films Unveil a Lost Jazz Legend". National Public Radio. December 15, 2007. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17260407. Retrieved 2008-04-14. "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."
- ↑ Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, Oxford/New York 1997, p. 34
- ↑ http://louismaistros.com/
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