Schizophrenia Series-Disabled Legend Charles Buddy Bolden

Charles “Buddy” Bolden was born on 6 September, 1877 and died on 4 November, 1931. Charles Buddy Bolden was buried in an unmarked grave in Holt Cemetery, a pauper’s graveyard in New Orleans. In 1998 a monument to Charles Buddy Bolden was erected in Holt Cemetery, but his exact gravesite remains unknown.

Charles Buddy Bolden was an African American cornetist and is regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of rag-time music which later came to be known as jazz.

Charles Buddy Bolden was known as King Bolden, and his band was a top draw in New Orleans from about 1900 until 1907, when he was incapacitated by schizophrenia, which was called dementia praecox at that time. Charles Buddy Bolden left no known surviving recordings, but he was known for his very loud sound and constant improvisation.

While there is substantial first hand oral history about Charles Buddy Bolden, facts about his life continue to be lost amongst colourful myth. Stories about him being a barber by trade or that he published a scandal-sheet called the “Cricket” have been repeated in print despite being debunked decades earlier.

Charles Buddy Bolden suffered an episode of acute alcoholic psychosis in 1907 at the age of 30. With the full diagnosis of dementia praecox, he was admitted to a mental institution where he spent the rest of his life.

Many early jazz musicians credited Charles Buddy Bolden and the members of his band with being the originators of what came to be known as “jazz”, though the term was not yet in common musical use until after the era of Charles Buddy Bolden’s prominence. At least 1 writer has labelled him the father of jazz. Charles Buddy Bolden is credited with creating a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and adding blues to it; Bolden’s band was said to be the 1st to have brass instruments play the blues. Charles Buddy Bolden was also said to have taken ideas from gospel music heard in uptown African American Baptist churches.

Instead of imitating other cornetists, Charles Buddy Bolden played music he heard “by ear” and adapted it to his horn. In doing so, he created an exciting and novel fusion of rag-time, black sacred music, marching-band music and rural blues. Charles Buddy Bolden rearranged the typical New Orleans dance band of the time to better accommodate the blues; string instruments became the rhythm section, and the front-line instruments were clarinets, trombones, and Charles Buddy Bolden’s cornet. Charles Buddy Bolden was known for his powerful, loud, “wide open” playing style.

Joe “King” Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, and other early New Orleans jazz musicians were directly inspired by his playing.

Although Charles Buddy Bolden was recalled as having made at least 1 phonograph cylinder, no known recordings of Charles Buddy Bolden have survived.

Some of the songs 1st associated with his band such as the traditional song “Careless Love” and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”, are still standards. Charles Buddy Bolden often closed his shows with the original number “Get Out of Here and Go Home”, although for more “polite” gigs the last number would be “Home! Sweet Home!”.

One of the most famous Charles Buddy Bolden numbers is a song called “Funky Butt” (known later as “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”) which represents one of the earliest references to the concept of “funk” in popular music, now a musical subgenre unto itself. Charles Buddy Bolden’s “Funky Butt” was, as Danny Barker once put it, a reference to the olfactory effect of an auditorium packed full of sweaty people “dancing close together and belly rubbing.” Other musicians closer to Charles Buddy Bolden’s generation explained that the famous tune actually originated as a reference to flatulence.

I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,
Funky-butt, funky-butt, take it away.

The “Funky Butt” song was one of many in the Charles Buddy Bolden repertory with rude or off-colour lyrics popular in some of the rougher places Charles Buddy Bolden played, and Charles Buddy Bolden’s trombonist Willy Cornish claimed authorship. It became so well known as a rude song that even whistling the melody on a public street was considered offensive. However the strain was incorporated into the early published ragtime number “St. Louis Tickle”.

Sidney Bechet wrote and composed “Buddy Bolden Stomp” in his honour.

Duke Ellington paid tribute to Charles Buddy Bolden in his 1957 suite “A Drum is a Woman”. The trumpet part was taken by Clark Terry.

Dr. John, in the liner notes to his Goin’ Back to New Orleans (1992), describes “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say” (track 5) as “Jelly Roll Morton’s memory of a jazz pioneer”.

Charles Buddy Bolden has inspired a number of fictional characters with his name. Most famously, Canadian author Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming Through Slaughter features a “Buddy Bolden” character that in some ways resembles Charles Buddy Bolden, but in other ways is deliberately contrary to what is known about him.

Charles Buddy Bolden is also prominent in August Wilson’s 7 String Guitars. August Wilson’s drama includes a character (King Hedley) whose father, in the play, deliberately named him after King Buddy Bolden. King Hedley constantly sings, “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say…” and believes that Buddy Bolden will come down and bring him money to buy a plantation.

Additionally, August Wilson’s King Hedley II continues 7 Guitars, thus Charles Buddy Bolden continues in the play as well.

Charles Buddy Bolden is a prominent character in David Fulmer’s murder mystery titled Chasing the Devil’s Tail, being not only a bandleader but also a suspect in the murders. Charles Buddy Bolden also appears by reputation or in person in Fulmer’s other books.

Charles Buddy Bolden is the titular character in the film Bolden!, which is currently in production. Charles Buddy Bolden is being portrayed by Anthony Mackie.

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