Jazz music is another layer of the foundation of America’s soundtrack. Charles “Buddy” Bolden is said to be the first musician to ever play jazz music, but whether he is or not, it’s clear that his contributions to the genre helped form the jazz movement. Many jazz musicians, including Jelly Roll Morton and the trumpeter Louis Armstrong, proclaimed him to be one of the most powerful musicians ever to play jazz. The birth of jazz begat the birth of American popular culture from Armstrong to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Fugees, and Dr. Dre. Bolden is credited as the one that laid down that foundation.

Bolden’s Impact on Jazz

Bolden was born September 6, 1877 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bolden began playing the coronet, which is an instrument similar to the trumpet, when he was a teenager. He joined a small New Orleans band where he honed his musician skills. He later went on to create his own band, that is considered to be the first group to play what would later be called jazz music. The group played a variety of genres including, blues, waltzes, ragtime, and other popular songs of the time period.  Bolden cemented his reputation in the industry by using the power of his horn to put listeners into a trance or get them to dance into a frenzy. He made the songs his own by playing blues songs at medium tempos, sprinkled with racy lyrics. He took the blues and mixed it with gospel inflections for a more rhythmic feel, and the result was a new sound that spread throughout New Orleans.

The Buddy Bolden Band, 1905.

The Buddy Bolden Band consisted of cornet, guitar, trombone, bass, two clarinets, and drums. From 1900 to 1906, the Buddy Bolden Band had top billing in New Orleans. Bolden became known as the moniker “King” Bolden.  According to NewOrleans.com, songs first associated with his band include “Careless Love,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” “Get Out of Here and Go Home,” and “Funk Butt.”

Bolden’s Decline

Things started to spiral out of control for Bolden in 1906. He suffered from depression and his alcohol usage brought on bouts of paranoia, including a fear of his own coronet, and severe headaches. His last public appearance was in 1907 with the Eagle Band at the New Orleans Labor Day Parade. During the parade he began screaming and suffered what seemingly looked like a nervous breakdown. NewOrleans.com says he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at the age of 30. He remained there until his death nearly 25 years later on November 4, 1931.

Bolden’s Legacy

Actor Reno Wilson portraying Louis Armstrong in the film BOLDEN.

On May 3, 2019, the first ever film inspired by the jazz legend, BOLDEN, will be released in theaters nationwide. The film stars Gary Carr, Yaya DaCosta, Reno Wilson, Erik LaRay Harvey, and Ian McShane with music written, arranged, and performed by acclaimed jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and directed by Dan Pritzker.

The film’s stars recreated the only photo left of Buddy Bolden and his band.

While his musical life was cut short, and there’s not much left of his actual recordings today, Bolden was and still is lauded as a musical genius of his time that inspired the likes of jazz artists that followed in his footsteps.