Buddy Bolden Band (Bolden is back row,
second from left), New Orleans, c. 1895.
Courtesy of the Frank Driggs Collection.
Born September 6, 1877, in New Orleans, LA
Died November 4, 1931, in Jackson, LA
The growls and shouts that attended the birth of jazz came, by most accounts, from New Orleans cornet king Buddy Bolden. Though he was never recorded, he remains among the most revered of all jazz musicians. Jelly Roll Morton called Bolden “the most powerful man in the history [of jazz].” Bold, brassy, and brimming with the emotional power of the blues, his sound seemed capable of crossing the entire Crescent City, and it carried with it both the fire and humor of Bolden’s personality. Born in 1877, Bolden absorbed every musical style his city had to offer; he played dance music of all varieties—waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, and rags. He did not improvise freely, but he ornamented melodies and made them his own, and he was among the first to combine the syncopation of ragtime with the blues. Audiences responded to Bolden with the enthusiasm of the faithful at a church revival. “He had a moan in his cornet that just went through you,” one musician attested, “just like you were in the church.”
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