The Father Of Improvisation: Buddy Bolden Biography

Buddy Bolden was the founding father of jazz improvisation. We have anecdotal references to Bolden's talent, but no recordings exist.

Born in New Orleans in 1877, Charles "Buddy" Bolden would go on to become one of the true jazz originals. His playing was the stuff of legends even while he was alive. Sadly for the rest of us, he remains mostly legend because he never recorded any music.

Buddy's father and sister died in a summer Yellow Fever epidemic when he was about ten. Following their deaths, Buddy's mother began suffering from depression. She spent her days grieving over the loss of her husband and child and lost all interest in Buddy.

Young Buddy had the run of the streets. He was free to listen to the corner musicians who played the new music that was becoming so popular with everyone. The music was jazz.

In 1895, Buddy formed the Buddy Bolden Band.

In almost no time at all he was the talk of New Orleans. He played at every popular club and dive on the scene.

The "scene" was the black part of town. Music lovers regardless of race flocked to clubs with names like The Big Easy or The Funky Butt.

As his fame and fortune grew, so did Buddy's obsession for wine, whiskey and women. He lived every aspect of his life to excess. He spent money as fast as he made it. His appetite for life raged out of control. And all of his passion funneled into his music. He became ever more inventive in his style of playing.

One person who spoke openly of the effect that Buddy Bolden had on his playing was Louis Armstrong. When he was just a boy, Armstrong used to sneak into the clubs and sit at the back listening to Buddy play. For Satchmo, no one else would ever compare.

In 1907, Buddy's world came crashing down. While marching in a New Orleans parade, Bolden fell to the ground. He writhed and foamed at the mouth. Doctors diagnosed mental collapse and sent him to the state hospital in Jackson, Louisiana.

Bolden never left the hospital again. He never again played the cornet. He lived for twenty-four years just a shell of the man he had once been. Many people have speculated that Buddy had inherited his mother's unstable mental condition. Others attribute his illness to the side-effects of syphilus. But it is all just conjecture and we will probably never know.

Buddy died in 1931 and his tremendous talent died with him. He left no recorded music for us to listen to. Of the many original compositions he wrote only one remains--Buddy Bolden's Blues.

© High Speed Ventures 2011