Buddy Bolden
© 2020 Jeff Crompton

The Opera

Buddy Bolden was written in 2018 by Atlanta saxophonist and composer Jeff Crompton. It’s a short chamber opera (approx. 45 minutes) written for five or more singers, with a saxophone trio as the “orchestra.” The opera tells the story of the end of Buddy Bolden’s musical career in New Orleans, as the brilliant musician descended into mental illness. Buddy Bolden is supported in part by a grant from the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Tommy L. Crompton

The Characters

Buddy Bolden (bass/baritone) - a cornetist Alice Bolden (soprano) - Buddy’s mother Alphonse Picou (tenor) - a clarinetist Beatrice & Louis (mezzo-soprano & baritone) - fans of Bolden

The Story

New Orleans, 1905-1906 Scene One: A Dance Hall Buddy Bolden is sitting and oiling the valves of his cornet before a gig. Alphonse Picou, a young substitute clarinetist enters. Picou, a trained, “legitimate” musician, is thrust into the world of improvised jazz by this first gig with Bolden. Beatrice and Louis, fans attending the dance, sing Bolden's praises, recognizing that his music is something new and different. Bolden ends the scene with a lament which reveals his growing paranoia and self-doubt. Scene Two: Johnson Park Buddy's band faces an empty dance hall – all the dancers are at Lincoln Park across the street, dancing to the polite, refined music of John Robichaux's orchestra. Bolden “calls his children home” by aiming his horn over the fence and playing the blues. A crowd rushes over to from Lincoln Park to listen and dance to Bolden's band, joining in on Bolden's signature song, “Funky Butt.” The crowd and the band are ecstatic, but the mood turns somber at the end of the night when Bolden reveals that he has already spent the money he was given for the gig, and cannot pay the band.
Scene Three: A Labor Day Parade Buddy Bolden's final gig. He has a mental and physical breakdown during the parade, and sits on the curb, unable to continue. Picou, with the assistance of trombonist Frank Dusen, helps him home, to be cared for by his mother. Scene Four: The Bolden Home Alice Bolden offers a tortured prayer, asking God to help her son. As she tends to him, he becomes delusional, believing that she is trying to poison him. He chases his mother, trying to beat her with a water pitcher. She runs out, screaming for the police. Scene Five: A male voice reads a document: the “Description of the Insane Person” which details Bolden's mental condition and reveals that he has been institutionalized at the state insane asylum in Jackson. Alice ends the opera with a final aria, the text of which is taken from a letter she wrote to Bolden's doctor, asking about her son.