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.
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.
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. 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. 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 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." Other musicians closer to Bolden's generation explained that the famous tune originated as a reference to flatulence.
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."
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, 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 habanera rhythm, one of the most basic rhythmic cells in Afro-Latin and sub-Saharan African music traditions.
Tributes to Bolden
- Sidney Bechet wrote and composed "Buddy Bolden Stomp" in his 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, has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Dr. John in his Goin' Back to New Orleans and Hugh Laurie in his record Let Them Talk.
- "Hey, Buddy Bolden" is a song on the album, Nina Simone Sings Ellington.
- 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
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, where 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 is reported to be in development, titled Bolden!. Gary Carr portrays Bolden.
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.