Buddy Bolden
© 2020 Jeff Crompton

Buddy Bolden:

The First Jazz Musician?

Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877-1931) was a remarkable cornet player, active in New Orleans during a short period just before and after the turn of the 20th century. He is considered by many to be the first musician who tied together the various strands of music in the city at the time - ragtime, the blues, spritituals, marches, pop songs - and from them created a revolutionary new music that came to be called jazz. Bolden’s band was one of the most popular in New Orleans; it could charm the attendees of upscale lawn parties in the Garden District one evening, and cause slow-drag mayhem the next night playing the blues for the rougher crowds attending dances at Union Sons Hall (aka “Funky Butt Hall”) on Perdido Street. But Bolden’s grip on things started to slip as mental illness overtook him in the early years of the 20th century. He became increasingly erratic and unreliable, and at one point was effectively fired from his own band. He suffered a mental and/or physical collapse while playing a parade on Labor Day, 1906, and shortly afterwards attacked his mother with a water pitcher, believing that she was trying to poison him. He was arrested and commited to Jackson State Insane Asylum, where he spent the next 25 years, until his death. He likely never knew that the music he created lived on and changed the world.
The only known portrait of Bolden, probably painted in 1894 or 1895.