Buddy Bolden is often said to be the first jazz musician. He played trumpet (cornet) in turn-of-the-century New Orleans.

Buddy Bolden was born in New Orleans on September 6, 1877. When he played music in New Orleans there were three distinct groups of musicians-white musicians, black musicians, and Creole musicians. Creoles of color were also known as free persons of color and were of mixed black and white heritage.

They usually had formal musical training in the European style of playing music, came from more middle-class backgrounds and played in dance halls. From uptown New Orleans there were black musicians who did not have this sort of training and played a more "dirty" ragtime style of music with syncopation and embellishment in street parades. Bolden came from this more dirty style of playing and he brought it into the dance halls. He loosened up the ragtime beat even more and improvised more than others had. He had such charisma as a performer and skill is musician that he attracted a large following.

The first band featuring Bolden was formed in about 1895 and he grew to be the most popular musician in New Orleans between 1900 and 1907. His mental health deteriorated and he was hospitalized in 1907 with what is today called schizophrenia. He remained hospitalized until his death in 1931.

The Creole musicians in the dance halls started swinging the beat and playing a freer style as a result of hearing Bolden and also to better compete with him. This may well have been the genesis of the blending of European music and African music and the beginning of jazz.

Bolden played when sound recording was still rare and the only recording he is said to have made is lost. We know his sounds only through second hand comments of those who heard him and more importantly through recordings of some important early jazz players whose styles were influenced by him. Listening to how their playing diverges from the earlier dance hall and ragtime music, we can infer how the legendary Bolden must have played. Early players influenced by him include: Joe "King" Oliver, Freddie Keppard and Bunk Johnson.

Recent reports say that the famous missing recording of Buddy Bolden has been discovered in a Kansas attic and released on the Smithsonian/Folkway label on a CD entitled "The Sky Is Blue"

Return from Buddy Bolden to Trumpet History


Return from Buddy Bolden to Jazz Music History


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