Charles “Buddy” Bolden is considered by most historians and practitioners of jazz to be the founding father of the art form. A new film Bolden opened in theaters this week examining the life and career of the legendary New Orleans cornetist.
Bolden was born September 6, 1877 in New Orleans, La. As a teenager, he picked up the cornet, which is similar to a trumpet, and developed a mastery of the instrument to the point onlookers began referring to him as “King” Bolden. At age 20, he formed Buddy Bolden’s Band and they swiftly became favorites in the New Orleans music scene.
Because the band couldn’t read sheet music, they copied the compositions of other bands or played off one another in improvisational sessions. These early sessions helped form the backbone of ragtime and “jass” later known as jazz.
Bolden’s growing fame and wealth came with unexpected pressures. By the turn of the 20th Century, his band had become extremely popular in New Orleans and many points south. Bolden developed an alcohol problem and was a reported womanizer. Ultimately, his mental health declined anj to the point he was institutionalized in his early thirties. He was confined to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum, where he remained until his death in 1931.
Wynton Marsalis and other New Orleans jazz masters credit Bolden’s playing style as one of the many early precursors of jazz. Bolden created the “big four” rhythm that gave jazz a musical foundation early on. He’s also credited with possibly one of the earliest references to the term “funk” in music.
Bolden features English actor Gary Carr in the starring role along with Erik LaRay Harvey, Ian McShane, and YaYa DaCosta.
PHOTO: Fred Norris, King Bolden Pictures