Amazing Charles “Buddy” Bolden: The Man Who Invented Jazz

Updated on May 13, 2020
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna has worked in the entertainment business for over 20 years, promoting special events with musicians, celebrities, and dignitaries.

Gary Carr stars as Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the pioneer of Jazz
Gary Carr stars as Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the pioneer of Jazz | Source

Jazz Music

Charles "Buddy" Bolden's story is haunting and captivating with excessive highs and terrifying lows. Few people are familiar with his influence on the music culture, yet his musical ingenuity touches each of us fundamentally and socially.

He invented one of America's few homegrown art forms, including its first and most important cultural export known as jazz.

Growing up in New Orleans toward the end of the 19th century, he developed a new style of music. Some describe it as fusing blues, gospel, and ragtime with a calling for rapid improvisational rhythm. He played his cornet's warmth and arousal sound like no other.

“Very little is known about musician Buddy Bolden:

He was born September 6, 1877.

He was committed to an insane asylum in 1907, where he died in 1931.

Very few pictures of him exist….But Buddy Bolden invented jazz.”

American Made

Jazz is an American made as apple pie. The art form arrived about 120 years ago when musicians gathered through inspiration, devotion, angst, and revelation. The splendor of jazz is between the musical notes, and its origins veiled in an alchemy of mystery and allure.


Quite possibly, the mystery of the origins of jazz stems from one of the first gifted musicians in this genre. Charles “Buddy” Bolden remains virtually unknown. Born in New Orleans in 1877, he became a bandleader spectacle before Louis Armstrong. He was the first cornet player to surface from ragtime and blues, playing a fresh, new form of music. “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” (“I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”) by Jelly Roll Morton is one of the first and rare acknowledgments to the shadowy artist called “King” Bolden. Director and writer Dan Pritzker decided to change that and shed light on the life and times of Bolden.

Using the screenplay Pritzker wrote with David Rothschild, he innovated the musician’s life and chose to be creative with the Bolden’s story. The movie immerses the audience through images of his lively and tragic life. Each frame comprises the social framework where Bolden grew up and developed the revolutionary music. Pritzker focuses on inspiration from artists like Louis Armstrong and the musical style of the period.

Bolden engages the audience, starting with the early 1900s New Orleans. Buddy Boden, played by Gary Carr, was broadly known as the “King” of New Orleans jazz. He took an innovative approach to music by merging ragtime, gospel, blues, and distinct improvisational riffs.

A clip from the movie shows a young Bolden sheltered under his mother’s sewing machine at the sweatshop. He fantasizes about the beat and sounds of the shop with woman workers ballet dancing to the sounds of the equipment. The movie trailer and other clips from the movie show Bolden at different points in his life. Most of the clips are triumphant and tragic, but the story is sad.

“Coming Through Slaughter” by Michael Ondaatje, who wrote, “The English Patient,” tells the story of Bolden in poetic passages of his life. Ondaatje writes how Bolden drank heavily as a barber by day and a musician by night. One night he went crazy and was locked up in a pre-Civil War asylum.

On the contrary, the movie introduces us to his wife Nora, played by Yaya DaCosta. She profoundly loved him and endured emotional pain because his personal life was not stable. His manager Buddy Bartley, played by Erik LaRay Harvey, managed him through jubilant highs and precarious lows.

Yaya DaCosta as Nora Bolden with Gary Carr as Buddy Bolden
Yaya DaCosta as Nora Bolden with Gary Carr as Buddy Bolden | Source

The film jumps forward to 1931, showing the incredibly trendy trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, played by Reno Wilson. He comes back to New Orleans and becomes one of the first African-American entertainers broadcast on the radio. Ironically, Bolden was experiencing his lasts days in the Louisiana insane asylum at the same time.

Reno Wilson as Louis Armstrong
Reno Wilson as Louis Armstrong | Source

Pritzker’s passion for telling Bolden’s story goes back decades. A guitarist for the Chicago-based rock/soul/R&B band Sonia Dad introduced Bolden’s story to Pritzker by recommending the nonfiction book “In Search of Buddy Bolden” by Donald M. Marquis.

Marquis is from Indiana but lives in New Orleans. He works at the New Orleans Public Library, spending most of this time researching jazz history and writing for jazz publications. He is well-researched, compared to Ondaatje’s book, with documentation and acknowledges a team of researchers who helped him uncover the life of Bolden.

“Jazz does not belong to one race or culture, but is a gift that America has given the world.”

— Ahmad Alaadeen

Pritzker recalls reading Marquis' book for the first time when he toured with Sonia Dada. A friend introduced him to a book about Bolden, who created jazz. It got his attention, but a ridiculous concept, like saying this guy invented water or lightning. The truth is Bolden set the stage jazz. Pritzker says it as a tragedy because Bolden's music impacted his life, even though he never heard of him until now.

Dan Pritzker (Director) and Wynton Marsalis.
Dan Pritzker (Director) and Wynton Marsalis. | Source

Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis orchestrated the music for the movie and is an Executive Producer. He hopes the film shines a positive light on the cornet player, so people respect our musical history and culture. Marsalis is from New Orleans and plays the trumpet, who won multiple Grammys and the only entertainer to win Grammys for jazz and classical records during the same year, and the inaugural musician winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music.

All the music that came after Bolden, Marsalis related it to cornet solos, and the style of variations. But, he was surprised people didn't talk about him as a cultural influence. He played loud, had many women, and he drank too much.

Legendary jazz musicians recall Bolden's work and life, almost like a myth, there are no recordings of his music or documents of his life. His career started as the famous King Bolden but ended in a Louisiana insane asylum where he lived the last 25 years of his experience.

© 2019 Kenna McHugh


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating, but very sad life story. I had never heard of Bolden before. This is a very well-illustrated article about him.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)