Singers » Jazz Singers » BUDDY BOLDEN
Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden, the renowned cornetist, was among the finest jazz musicians the world has ever had. Credited as the ‘Father of Jazz”, Bolden was one of the firsts to improvise his own music style, which later came to be called as “Jazz” and was the first musician to be monikered as “King” of cornet in New Orleans. He was a fine horn player who was esteemed highly by the contemporary black musicians of that time. Unlike his cronies, Bolden entered music at a later juncture, taking up cornet. Much is not known about the life of Buddy Bolden. None of his recordings exists anymore, and a good deal of information about his life and achievements have been sourced out from the anecdotal references. Bolden is believed to be mysterious, unfriendly and inexplicable. His music unlocked a complete world of potentials for his contemporaries and inspired wannabe Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong. Buddy Bolden cared about just two things in life — music and women, and in both he was very popular and won money and fame. Explore the article to know in detail about Buddy Bolden, the founder-father of jazz music.
Buddy Bolden kick-started his career by performing in Papa Jack Laines band before forming a musical band of his own. Papa Jack Laines is often accredited as the “Patriarch of Jazz”. Towards the mid-1890s, Bolden attempted forging a series of bands, as he sought to achieve perfect amalgamation of music. However, he succeeded in forming a perfect band only towards the end of the century. His band comprised of cornet, guitar, trombone, bass, two clarinets and drums. He named the band as ‘Buddy Bolden Band’ and they held court in the South Rampart and Perdido area of downtown New Orleans. The place was located in the infamous red-light area of Storyville. From 1900 to 1906, his band remained the top draw in the downtown area of New Orleans. Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden upgraded his status and identity first as “Kid” and later on as “King” Bolden. During this time, he got heavily addicted to alcohol and became highly popular among ladies.
He always played music after hearing it and then going on to modify it in his own way. In the course of doing this, he generated an electrifying and innovative fusion of black-sacred music, rural blues, ragtime and marching-band. Apart from this, he also reshuffled the classic New Orleans dance group of that time to make it better acquainted with the blues. String instruments were the rhythm section and front-line instruments were trombones, clarinets and the cornet. Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was famous for his strong, influential, loud and extensive style of cornet playing. He was the inspiration for Joe "King" Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, and other early jazz musicians in New Orleans.
None of his recordings exists today, although the various anecdotes suggest that he played with a loud blue tone and improvised much of his music. His trombone partner Willy Cornish stated that the Buddy Bolden band had created one phonography cylinder in late 1980s called “Edison Cylinder”, although no traces of it could be found till date.
By 1906, he was weigh down with responsibilities and growing competition and struggled hard to keep his music fresh, new, alive and different from his competitor bands. As the stress mounted, the hopelessness and depression also increased and he resigned himself completely to alcohol. He started suffering from bouts of severe headache and developed an erratic fear of his cornet. On 23 March, Buddy Bolden became so brainsick that the doctors were forced to confine him to bed. He also accused his mother-in-law of trying to poison him and hit her on the head. In 1907, he did his last public performance with the Eagle Band at the New Orleans Labor Day parade. In the middle of that parade, he started screaming at the ladies around him and frothed at the mouth. His mental condition started worsening and he became aggressive. He was sent to the mental asylum. Although he recuperated and came back home, he went back to his old drinking habits and over the time, his condition deteriorated. He started hallucinating and became extremely violent. Unable to control him, his family had to send him back to the asylum. He was put in State Insane Asylum in Jackson on 5 June 1907. The asylum remained his home for more than twenty-five years, before he passed away in a state of utter dejection and insanity.
Born as Charles Joseph Bolden on September 6, 1877 in New Orleans to Westmore Bolden and Alice Harrison, Bolden’s life was in no way a bed of roses. He was just 6 years old when his father passed away due to summer Yellow Fever epidemic. His mother had to take up odd jobs to support the family. When Buddy was 10 years old, his family shifted to 385 First Street. Although no concrete data is available on his early life, it could be that Buddy Bolden might have attended the Fisk School for Boys, an institution renowned for its rigorous discipline and outstanding music. His passion for music was further inspired from St. John’s Baptist Church, where he often visited to attended services. In 1894, Buddy Bolden started playing the cornet and he received his early musical lessons from Manual Hall, who was his neighbor and was dating his mother.
Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden underwent a long period of acute alcoholic psychosis and succumbed to it on 4 November 1931, after being institutionalized for more than 25 years. His body was buried in Holte Cemetery, a pauper’s graveyard located in New Orleans. In 1998, a memorial of Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden was set up in Holt Cemetery, although the original gravesite remains unknown.
Duke Ellington paid homage to Buddy Bolden through “A Drum is a Woman”. Clark Terry played the trumpet here. The famous Buddy Bolden band tune “Funky Butt” also known as “Buddy Bolden’s Blue” was recorded for the first time by Jelly Roll Morton. Till date, it has been enclosed by several artists including Hugh Laurie in his “Let Them Talk” and Dr. John in his “Goin’ Back to New Orleans”. In his honor and memory, Sidney Bechet penned and composed ‘Buddy Bolden Stomp’. Interact Theatre located in Minneapolis made a new musical piece and named it ‘Hot Jazz at da Funky Butt’ in 2011. In this musical piece, Charles Joseph ‘Buddy’ Bolden was the feature character. Aaron Gabriel composed the music and lyrics and introduced the New Orleans Band “Rue Fiya”. The song “Dat’s How Da Music Do Ya” included the Buddy Bolden Blues. The album, “Nina Simone Sings Duke Ellington” included the song “Hey, Buddy Bolden”.
Buddy Bolden influenced most authors. One of the renowned authors of Canada, Michael Ondaatje included a character called ‘Buddy Bolden’ in his novel “Coming through Slaughter”. The character resembled the actual Buddy Bolden, although in other ways, the fictitious character was quite opposite of the real Charles Joseph ‘Buddy’ Bolden. Buddy Bolden was also given a tribute in the drama “Seven Guitars” by August Wilson. In the drama, there was a character called King Hedley who was named so by his father after ‘King Buddy Bolden’. Apart from this, Buddy Bolden has been fictionalized as a character in the murder mystery of David Fulmer named as the “Devil’s Tail”. Louis Maistros have also depicted Charles Joseph ‘Buddy’ Bolden in the novel “The Sound of Building Coffins”. The novel is said to include that portrays the legendary jazz musician Buddy Bolden playing his cornet.