Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A00501 - Buddy Bolden, One of the Founders of Jazz

Charles Joseph "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 amidst colorful myth. Stories about his being a barber by trade or that he published ascandal 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, amental institution, where he spent the rest of his life.[1][2]
Bolden was buried in an unmarked grave in Holt Cemetery, a pauper's graveyard in New Orleans. In 1998 a monument to Bolden was erected in Holt Cemetery, but his exact gravesite remains unknown.


The Bolden Band around 1905. Michael Ondaatje describes this photo on page 66 of his novel Coming Through Slaughter. (TOP: Jimmy Johnson (bass), Bolden (cornet), Willy Cornish (Valve Trombone), Willy Warner (Clarinet) BOTTOM: Brock Mumford (Guitar), Frank Lewis (Clarinet).
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 in common musical use until after the era of Bolden's prominence. At least one writer has labeled him the father of jazz.[3] 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 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.[1] Joe "King" OliverFreddie KeppardBunk 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 BaquetAlphonse Picou and Bob Lyons also remembered a recording session ("Turkey in the Straw", according to Baquet) in the early 1900s. The researcherTim 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. 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."[2] Other musicians closer to Bolden's generation explained that the famous tune 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 where he 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. The melody was incorporated into the early published ragtime number "St. Louis Tickle."

Big four[edit]

Bolden is also credited with the discovery or invention of the so-called "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,[4] the Big Four (below) was the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march.[5] The second half of the Big Four is the pattern commonly known as the habanera rhythm, one of the most basic rhythmic cells in Afro-Latin and sub-Saharan African music traditions.

Buddy Bolden's "big four" pattern.[6] About this sound Play 

Tributes to Bolden[edit]

A statue commemorating Bolden in Louis Armstrong ParkNew Orleans
  • In 2011, Interact Theater in Minneapolis created a new musical theater piece entitled Hot Jazz at da Funky Butt in which Buddy Bolden was the feature character. Music and Lyrics were composed 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.

Bolden in fiction[edit]

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 entitled Chasing the Devil's Tail,[7] where he is a bandleader and a suspect in the murders. He also appears by reputation or in person in Fulmer's other books.
  • In Tiger RagNicholas Christopher tells the story of Bolden and the lost cylinders he recorded with his group.

Plays and films[edit]

  • 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.
  • biopic about Bolden is reported to be in development, titled Bolden!Gary Carr portrays Bolden.[9]

Charles “Buddy” Bolden was born to Alice and Westmore Bolden in uptown New Orleans on September 6, 1877. Little did his mother know her son would soon grow up a young man whom everyone called “King”. A sturdy young man who would sport expensive suits and was often escorted by several women who liked to carry his horn. A young man whom, for a period ranging from around 1898 until 1906, reigned as the undisputed King of black New Orleans music.
Buddy Bolden played the cornet (an instrument similar to the trumpet) like no one before him. He stirred his dancers into a frenzy, some simply shouted out, “Aw, play it King Bolden!” Bolden led a band during this time that is generally considered the first group to play what would later be called jazz music. He forged his reputation with the power of his horn, said to be heard miles away, and his proficiency playing the blues. Musicians who were old enough to have heard Bolden perform described his band as playing a whole lot of blues. More polite and polished dance bands like John Robichaux’s orchestra played a smoother style of popular dance music. It wasn’t that King Bolden and his band didn’t perform other numbers, they played waltzes, ragtime, and popular songs of the day, it’s just that nobody laid into the blues so down and dirty like the king. Blues numbers played at medium tempos, some with raunchy lyrics, soon had black patrons of the South Rampart/Perdido Street area (known as “back o’ town”) dancing a new beat. King Bolden took the guttural moan of the blues, mixed it with the spirit of the black Baptist church, and applied a ‘ragged’ rhythmic feel to his songs. The result was an all new sound that was perfect for dancing and quickly caught the attention of young African Americans in New Orleans.
King Bolden’s sound appealed to a new generation some thirty three years removed from the end of the Civil War. His devoted followers loved to dance. Many originated from the underbelly of New Orleans’ Black Storyville neighborhood as hustlers, prostitutes, and pimps who lavished their praises onto the dapper King. Others simply found Bolden’s band irresistible but made their exits earlier in the evening, before the dances started getting too rowdy. Often, members of King Bolden’s flock followed him to Lincoln and Johnson parks to hear his band perform at dances held there. A whole lot of fun in those days could be had in either of these uptown parks. After the baseball games, greased pig chase, and the infamous hot air balloon rides, King Bolden would sound his horn and “call his children home”. He would often blast his signature call from Johnson Park, to let folks know in Lincoln Park that his band was about to play. Some of the patrons dancing to the John Robicheaux orchestra would scurry over to Johnson Park once King Bolden started up.
As with many iconic figures in American history, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction, especially in the relatively new field of jazz history. One of the popular Buddy Bolden myths was that he worked as a barber in addition to being a musician. He never did work as a barber or own a shop but he did hang out at a friend’s barbershop because it was a meeting place where musicians networked. Just as barbershops in many African American neighborhoods funtion today, the shops in Bolden’s neighborhood served as a social hub of sorts. A place where folks got the latest news in a pre-CNN era. There is no doubt however as to the manner in which King Bolden thrilled his crowds, always entertaining them with his exciting new sound, full of the blues. Sadly, there was never a recording made of the first king of jazz and we will never know exactly how Bolden sounded. We can only imagine what it must have felt like on a hot and sweaty night at places like the Union Sons Hall on Perdido Street. As Bolden would stomp out a song’s tempo, the dancer’s seemed to suddenly come to life. Before long the whole room would be swaying along to Bolden’s hypnotic beat. One of Bolden’s musicians improvised the lyrics “Funky Butt, Funky Butt, take it away, open up the windows and let the bad air out”, apparently referencing the cramp confines in which the sweat and whiskey soaked dancers grooved to. The song which became know as Buddy Bolden’s Blues, served as a kind of theme song for King Bolden. With dances at the Union Sons Hall (informally renamed “Funky Butt Hall”) often lasting until 5 a.m. it is probable that this was the roughest place Bolden played. The same hall also ironically served as a Baptist church on Sunday Mornings. The dichotomy that the Funky Butt Hall and the Baptist church would seemily represent instead coexisted within the same building. Bolden himself may have grappled with the contradictions of his Baptist upbringing and the new life that music led him too. Not unlike the Funky Butt/ Baptist church connection, King Bolden’s music brought a seemingly spiritual fervor to the low-down blues songs the band was fond of performing.
The high flying sporting life that the first king of jazz led did not come without a price however. Bolden, always described as a playboy and a heavy drinker, gradually began to lose his grip on reality and his health began to fail. In 1906, the king of black New Orleans began exhibiting unpredictable behavior, filled with paranoia and headaches. Several incidents occurred in which neither Bolden’s mother or sister felt safe around him and police were called. Eventually King Bolden’s mother signed papers to have him committed to the Louisiana State asylum in Jackson where he would reside until his death in 1931. His mental illness was said to have been triggered by alcohol. Some even claimed Bolden was the recipient of a voodoo curse. His diagnosis never the less remains cloudy as psychiatric care was not what it is today. King Bolden would never be interviewed or recorded while at the asylum where he only occasionally exhibited brief glimpses of his former self. The first definitive figure in America’s most recognizable art form, jazz, would disintegrate in the prime of his popularity and career.
King Bolden’s legend lives on though, through every young musician pressing a trumpet to their lips, attempting to evoke the same feeling Bolden had. Today’s musicians have the first king of jazz to draw upon as inspiration if they shall ever doubt the power of music, all they have to do is picture the king “calling his children home”. Maybe they too will one day be able to recreate the electrifying feeling that Buddy Bolden brought to black New Orleans.


Buddy Bolden, byname of Charles Joseph Bolden (b. September 6, 1877, New Orleans, Louisiana - d. November 4, 1931, Jackson, Louisiana), was a cornetist and is a founding father of jazz. Many jazz musician, including Jelly Roll Morton and the great trumpeter Louis Armstrong acclaimed him as one of the most powerful musicians ever to play jazz.

Little is known about the details of Bolden's career, but it is documented that by about 1895 he was leading a band.  The acknowledged king of New Orleans lower musical life, Bolden often worked with six or seven different bands simultaneously.  In 1906, Bolden's emotional stability began to crumble, and the following year he was committed to the East Louisiana State Hospital, from which he never emerged. 

Buddy Bolden, byname of Charles Joseph Bolden    (born Sept. 6, 1877New Orleans, La., U.S.—died Nov. 4, 1931, Jackson, La.), cornetist and founding father of jazz. Many jazz musicians, including Jelly Roll Morton and the great trumpeter Louis Armstrong, acclaimed him as one of the most powerful musicians ever to play jazz.
Little is known about the details of Bolden’s career, but it is documented that by about 1895 he was leading a band. The acknowledged king of New Orleans lower musical life, Bolden often worked with six or seven different bands simultaneously. In 1906 his emotional stability began to crumble, and the following year he was committed to the East Louisiana State Hospital, from which he never emerged.

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