Bolden, Buddy (Charles Joseph)

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Bolden, Buddy (Charles Joseph)

Bolden, Buddy (Charles Joseph), New Orleans cornetist, leader, and perhaps the most legendary figure in all jazz; b. New Orleans, Sept. 6, 1877; d. Jackson, La., Nov. 4. 1931. His legendary status is due partly because he preceded the known jazz artists and by some accounts, was a powerful player, but he never recorded (despite rumors) and did not perform publicly after 1907. Because he was in fact a generation older than all other jazz artists it is certain that he did not begin by playing the same music as they (this is simple logic), so it is likely that he should be considered an inspiration to some early jazz players rather than a founder or inventor of the medium. Despite intensive research by Danny Barker and others, few hard facts emerge that detail his career. Guitarist Louis Keppard remembered playing with Bolden’s Band at the Globe Hall in New Orleans in 1895. Bunk Johnson said that he played second with Bolden at about that time, but Big Eye Louis Deslisle said that Bolden was “just beginning on cornet” in 1900. George Baquet said that he first sat in with Bolden at the Oddfellows Hall in 1905. Every scrap of information that comes to light seems, in some small way, to contradict the previous story. Chilton says confusion arises from the fact that informants are not all talking about the same man, and their appraisals of Bolden’s musical skills range from the ecstatic to the unprintable. Certainly there was more than one cornetist called Bolden from the Crescent City; in 1908 a New Orleans cornetist, Charles Bolden, visited N.Y. with a travelling minstrel show. The “real” Bolden did at one time run his own barber-shop in New Orleans, also led his own band, and they were regularly featured with Buddy Bottley. During his heyday Bolden is alleged to have simultaneously put out six bands bearing his name, making brief appearances with each of them. Later, he was deposed, and his musicians worked under Frankie Dusen’s leadership. Bolden’s last known job was with Allen’s Brass Band in 1907. He is said to have been permanently committed to the East La. State Hospital on June 5, 1907, however, bassist Bob Lyons remembered seeing Bolden in New Orleans at the celebrations marking the end of World War I. It seems possible that Bolden was released from the mental home for brief periods, but spent his last years there. Henry “Red” Allen went to see Bolden (who was a friend of his father) in the home, c. 1928. Red said that he failed to gain any comprehension from Bolden who just shuffled about without saying a word. Bolden is also the subject of the novel Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient.


Instrumental History of Jazz (1997). Planet Gong: Floating Arnachy Live 77 (1978).


D. Barker, A. Shipton, Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville (London, N.Y., 1998); D. M. Marquis, In Search of Buddy Bolden, First Man of Jazz (Baton Rouge, La. State Univ., 1978); D.M. Marquis, Finding Buddy Bolden, First Man of Jazz: The Journal of a Search (Goshen, Ind., 1978).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter