ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Nor was Bolden just a musician. He was an “all-around” man.
In addition to running his barber shop, he edited and published
The Cricket, a scandal sheet as full of gossip as New Orleans
had always been of corruption and vice.
Charles “Buddy” Bolden, 1895
Books on Buddy Bolden
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Buddy Bolden’s New Orleans Music
Or the Barber of Franklin Street
A Biographical Sketch
In New Orleans, after the Civil War, Negroes began more and more to use the usual wind and string instruments of the whites. Such instruments were already widely used by the Creole Negroes, most of whom, though skilled in written music, were not so close to the blues background. (The blues were improvisational in character.)
Soon Negro groups, having learned to play by ear, were engaged to play for dances and, by 1880, were found on some of the packets on the Mississippi River. here they worked as porters, barbers, and waiters during the day and entertained the passengers with music at night.
Historians point out that few of these early musicians could read music; that they were “fake” players. This is a highly significant fact when one considers how the music of the jazz band evolved and reached maturity during the last years of the nineteenth century. Although naturally influential by the music of their former masters, the Negroes retained much of the African material in their playing. The leader of the first great orchestra, Buddy Bolden, was already in his teens before the Congo dances were discontinued.
The Negroes were accustomed to endless repetition of short motifs and were not bothered by the brevity of form in the white man’s popular song. Nor did they worry about the trite character of the melodies, for, being unaccustomed to read music, they quickly altered the tune, anyway.
With the New Orleans Negro, improvisation was an essential part of musical skill, as is the case with every extra-European musician. In all cultures except that of Europe, where for a century improvisation has been a lost art, creative performance is a requisite. Thus where there was no premium on exact repetition and hide-bound imitation, only those with the urge to express themselves and an innate power of invention took up music. When a musician could play only what he started, and mediocre talents soon fell by the wayside.
It is important to note that the greatest talent went into dance orchestras, the only field open to those with professional musical ambitions.
The fact that these men were not primarily note readers also explains, when collective improvisation was attempted, the origin of the characteristic New Orleans polyphony, which in its more complex manifestations became a dissonant counterpoint that antedated Schönberg.
The young new Orleans aspirant, having no teacher to show him the supposed limitations of the instrument, went ahead by himself, and frequently hit upon new paths and opened up undreamed-of-possibilities.
In classical music, the wind instruments had always lagged behind in their development. The brasses, especially, were subordinated to the strings. But the freedom of the New Orleans musician from any restraining tradition and supervision enabled him to develop on most of the instruments not only new technical resources but an appropriate and unique jazz style.
So when Buddy Bolden, the barber of Franklin Street, gathered his orchestra together in the back room of his shop to try over a few new tunes for a special dance at Tin Type Hall, it was no ordinary group of musicians. Nor was Buddy an ordinary cornetist. In his day, he was entirely without competition, both in his ability as a musician and his hold upon the public. The power of his sonorous tone has never been equaled. When Buddy Bolden played in the Pecan Grove over in Gretna, he could be heard across the river throughout uptown New Orleans.
Nor was Bolden just a musician. He was an “all-around” man. In addition to running his barber shop, he edited and published The Cricket, a scandal sheet as full of gossip as New Orleans had always been of corruption and vice. Buddy was able to scoop the field with the stories brought in by his friend, a “spider,” also employed by the New Orleans police.
Before the Spanish-American War, Bolden had already played himself into the hearts of the uptown Negroes. By the turn of the century, his following was so large that his band could not fill all their engagements. Soon “Kid” Bolden became “King” Bolden.
When he wasn’t playing out at picnics during the day, Buddy could probably be found blowing his horn at Miss Cole’s lawn parties. Miss Cole’s was an open-air dance pavilion up on Josephine Street. At night, he, might work at any of a dozen places — at private parties, although his music was too “barrel house” for the most refined tastes. The nature of his music may be inferred from Herbert Asbury’s description of these taverns in his book The French Quarter:
As its name implies, the barrel house was strictly a drinking-place, and no lower guzzle-shop was ever operated in the United States. it usually occupied a long, narrow room, with a row of racked barrels on one side, and on the other a table on which were a large number of heavy glass tumblers, or a sort of bin filled with earthenware mugs. For five cents, a customer was permitted to fill a mug or tumbler at the spigot of any of the barrels, but if he failed to refill almost immediately he was promptly ejected.
If he drank until his capacity was reached, he was dragged into the alley, or, in some places, into back room. In either event, he was robbed, and if he was unlucky enough to land in the alley, sneak thieves usually stripped him of his clothing as well as of the few coins which he might have in his pockets. most of these dives served only brandy, Irish whiskey and wine, and the liquors which masqueraded under those names were as false as the hearts of the proprietors.
From barrel houses and honky-tonks came many of the descriptive words which were applied to the music played in them, such as “gully-low,” meaning, as its name implies, low as a ditch or “gully,” hence “low-down,” and “gut-bucket,” referring originally to the bucket which caught drippings, or “gutterings” from the barrels, later to the unrestrained brand of music that was played by small bands in the dives.
A Kid Ory (2nd from left) early band, La Pace, Louisiana, circa 1908
More often, Bolden played at one of the dance halls in the Negro district, such as Perseverance Hall, downtown on Villère Street, or Tin Type Hall, uptown on Liberty. George, the janitor of Perseverance, rented the hall on condition that the clubs who used it would hire the Bolden band. Some of the clubs they played for were the Buzzards, mysterious babies, and the Fourth District Carnival Club.
In the daytime, Tin Type Hall was used as a sort of morgue, for here the hustlers and roustabouts were always laid out when they were killed. The hustlers, gamblers and race track followers were often hard-working musicians in their off seasons, or when luck turned and they needed a little ready cash. At night, however, the Tin Tin Type trembled with life and activity, especially when Bolden was “socking it out.” The “high class” or “dicty” people didn’t go to such low-down affairs as the tin Type dances.
At about twelve o’clock, when the ball was getting right, the more respectable Negroes who did attend went home. Then Bolden played a number called “Don’t Go ‘Way, Nobody,” and the dancing got rough. When the orchestra settled down to the slow blues, the music was mean and dirty, as Tin Type roared full blast.
Bolden’s band was of the rough-and-ready school, without the polish of the note readers, such as the veteran Claiborne Williams’ band, or the sweetness of Robichaux’s orchestra. It was usually a small bunch, of from five to seven men. Buddy used William Warner or Frank Lewis, or sometimes both, on clarinet. Warner had a C clarinet, while Lewis played the usual B flat instrument. Willy Cornish, the only member of the original band living today, played a piston (valve) trombone.
For a mute, Cornish used an empty bottle. Bolden, who almost always played with an open horn, sometimes used a rubber plunger, water glass, half a coconut shell, derby hat, piece of cloth, or his hand, for muted effects. Bolden, as a rule, played everything in the key B flat. The rhythm section, as usual in early New Orleans, had no piano, and consisted of Mumford, guitar, James Johnson, bass, and drummer Cornelius Tillman, or McMurray, with his old single-head drum and its bright red snares.
Bolden’s band played for a while at Nancy Hank’s Saloon on Customhouse Street, down in the red-light district. They used to sell fireworks in front, which, one one occasion, set the place on fire. At times, this joint got too rough for even the Buddy Bolden band.
Carnival time always saw New Orleans in its most festive mood. It was also the busiest time for musicians. Everyone was needed in the street parades which celebrated Mardi Gras. There was at least one parade a day for a week before Mardi Gras, and, on the final Tuesday, there were usually five or six. There were six gay weeks of masked balls. During the final week, balconies were decorated and maskers danced in the specially lighted streets.
The parades, during the final week of pageantry, always started at Calliope Street and St. Charles Avenue, and after going up Canal, Royal and Orleans, ended at the site of the old Congo Square where, in the case of evening parades, the event was climaxed with a masquerade ball. King Bolden got his share of jobs in the carnival balls, as well as the parades.
Members of Bolden’s band included: William Warner or Frank Lewis (clarinet); Willy Cornish (piston trombone); Brock Mumford (guitar); James Johnson (bass); and Cornelius Tillman or McMurray (drums).
Buddy Bolden Band. Charles “Buddy” Bolden, 2nd from left in rear
In later years, there were several changes in King Bolden’s band. Around the corner from the Odd Fellow’s Hall, at Perdido and Rampart, there was a regular “gin barbershop” where musicians were accustomed to hang out while waiting to get calls for jobs. Here Bolden picked up Bob Lyons, the bass player, and Frankie Dusen, his trombonist. Others were Sam Dutrey, clarinet; Jimmie Palao, violin; and Henry Baltimore or “Zino,” drums. His guitar player was Brock Mumford, around whom Buddy wrote a little song, “The Old Cow Died and Old Brock Cried.” On this number the whole band sang the vocal chorus.
Buddy used to hang around a saloon on Gravier and Rampart run by “a guy named Mustache.” He called it “my office.” But he was never very businesslike. When it came to paying the men, he always had a check but he never got it cashed. When the men cornered him, he’d tell them to go to his office and stay there until he came.
“If you want anything to drink, tell Mustache I said to give you a good hot Tom and Jerry. I’ll be there in about ten minutes.” He never got there. . . .
But a dance was never anything around New Orleans without King Bolden. Whenever he opened up the window at the Masonic or Globe Hall and stuck his old cornet out and blew, people came from far and wide to hear him.
Finally the day came when Buddy Bolden marched in his last procession. For years he had been mentally and physically overtaxed. Under the stress of excitement, his mind snapped and he went on a rampage during a Labor Day parade. Down in New Orleans, there are those who say that women killed Buddy Bolden, but wiser heads know it was also overwork, that at last Buddy had played himself out. The king of them all was committed to the East Louisiana State Hospital on June 5, 1907, where he was listed as a barber, his reputation as cornetist promptly forgotten; he was known only as one of several Boldens from New Orleans. He died there in 1931.
Source: “New Orleans Music” (1939) by William Russell and Stephen W. Smith
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Part of a recording of an interview of Jelly Roll Morton by Alan Lomax in 1938. Jazz history archive material. Jelly sings and plays Buddy Bolden Blues, and tells of his experiences watching Buddy in New Orleans, and talks about the great Buddy Bolden. “Buddy was the blowinest man since Gabriel!”.
Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing his composition of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”
Buddy Boldens Blues
Lyrics by Jelly Roll Morton.
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say You nasty, you dirtytake it away You terrible, you awfultake it away I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout Open up that window and let that bad air out Open up that window, and let the foul air out I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say
I thought I heard Judge Fogarty say
Thirty days in the markettake him away
Get him a good broom to sweep withtake him away
I thought I heard him say
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen shout
Gal, give me that moneyIm gonna beat it out
I mean give me that money, like I explain you, or Im gonna beat it out
I thought I heard Frankie Dusen say
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A Novel in Linocut by Stefan Rerg
In a series of brilliantly rendered linocut relief prints, Berg tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans jazz musician living from 1877 to 1931. Each crisp image masterfully succeeds in evoking a feeling of the fluidity of the music, the boisterousness of the community, and the darkness of the events surrounding the musician’s demise. An introduction by Donald M. Marquis, author of In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, and an afterword by renowned artist, George A. Walker, round out this collection.
Fans of the graphic novel genre and enthusiasts of linocut relief printmaking will surely be pleased with Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden’s Last Parade. Highly recommended.
Stefan Berg revives the wordless graphic novel in his portrait of he `first man of jazz’. Very little is known of Buddy Bolden. His music was never recorded and there is only one existing photograph, yet he is considered to be the first bandleader to play the improvised music that has since become known as jazz.
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By Donald M. Marquis
The beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles “Buddy” Bolden (18771931) are inextricably intertwined. Just after the turn of the century, New Orleanians could often hear Boldens powerful horn from the citys parks and through dance hall windows. He had no formal training, but what he lacked in technical finesse he made up for in style. It was thishis unique style, both musical and personalthat made him the first “king” of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong.
For years the legend of Buddy Bolden was overshadowed by myths about his music, his reckless lifestyle, and his mental instability. In Search of Buddy Bolden overlays the myths with the substance of reality. Interviews with those who knew Bolden and an extensive array of primary sources enliven and inform Donald M. Marquiss absorbing portrait of the brief but brilliant career of the first man of jazz.
For this paperback edition, Marquis has added a new preface and appendix. He relates events and discoveries that have occurred since the books original publication in 1978, including a jazz funeral and a monument erected in honor of Bolden in 1996, the locating of Boldens granddaughter, the proper identification of Boldens clarinet players, and the unfortunate confirmation of the destruction of the last known Bolden recording.
Donald M. Marquis, jazz curator emeritus of the Louisiana State Museum, lives in New Orleans. He is also the author of Finding Buddy Bolden and A Nifty Place to Grow Up.
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By Danny Barker and Alyn Shipton
In 1986, jazz guitarist, banjoist, singer and composer Danny Barker (who died in 1994) published the first volume of his memoirs A Life in Jazz, which was widely praised as an addition to the history of jazz. This is a further selection of Barker’s writings (beginning with a long portrait of Buddy Bolden, the “first man of jazz”) drawn from conversations and interviews with the generation of jazzmen that invented the music. Many of those interviewed were musicians Danny Barker knew and worked with. The book also contains Barker’s own recollections of Storyville in its dying days, plus more material dating from his pioneering period of work in the big bands, with a memoir of trombonist Charlie Green, and of life on the road with Cab Calloway
Danny Barker (1900-94) was one of the great originals of jazz, a witty singer and performer, and a member of some of the most prestigious bands in jazz history, including those led by Henry Allen, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter and Lucky Millinder.
Alyn Shipton presents jazz radio programmes for the BBC and is a critic for The Times in London. He is the author of several books on music as well as a music publisher and editor. His most recent book is Groovin’ High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie published by Oxford University Press in 1999, voted “Book of the Year” by Jazz Times and winner of the 2000 ARSC award for best research in recorded sound.
By Alan Lomax
When it appeared in 1950, this biography of Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton became an instant classic of jazz literature. Now back in print and updated with a new afterword by Lawrence Gushee, Mister Jelly Roll will enchant a new generation of readers with the fascinating story of one of the world’s most influential composers of jazz. Jelly Roll’s voice spins out his life in something close to song, each sentence rich with the sound and atmosphere of the period in which Morton, and jazz, exploded on the American and international scene. This edition includes scores of Jelly Roll’s own arrangements, a discography and an updated bibliography, a chronology of his compositions, a new genealogical tree of Jelly Roll’s forebears, and Alan Lomax’s preface from the hard-to-find 1993 edition of this classic work.
Lawrence Gushee’s afterword provides new factual information and reasserts the importance of this work of African American biography to the study of jazz and American culture.
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music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/ writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/ daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam
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Men We Love, Men We HateSAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.
An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men
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The State of African Education (April 200)
Dr Asa Hilliard III speaks on the assault of academia on Africans writing and accounting for their own history.
Dr Hilliard is A teacher, psychologist, and historian.
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This video chronicles the life and times of the noted African-American historian, scholar and Pan-African activist John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998). Both a biography of Clarke himself and an overview of 5,000 years of African history, the film offers a provocative look at the past through the eyes of a leading proponent of an Afrocentric view of history. From ancient Egypt and Africas other great empires, Clarke moves through Mediterranean borrowings, the Atlantic slave trade, European colonization, the development of the Pan-African movement, and present-day African-American history.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 3 October 2012