Friday, March 09, 2007

What Buddy Bolden Says

The Jazz Foundation of America has mailer out announcing the 6th Annual Great Night in Harlem benefit concert. It will be May 17th, presumably in the Apollo Theater again. As their key art they use of the most famous photos in jazz—a rare surviving photo of Buddy Bolden, the first jazz musician.

Bolden could have used the help of an organization like the Jazz Foundation. After blazing through the New Orleans music scene with a legendarily strong cornet tone, he was consumed by his mental torments, spending the last years of his institutionalized. Years later, we remain fascinated by Bolden even though we have no idea what he really sounded like, as he never recorded. Of course, legends persist of an early cylinder he is rumored to have recorded—the jazz equivalent of the Holy Grail, Lost Ark, and the missing reel of Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons, all in one.

Bolden has become more legend than fact, with apocryphal stories of him as the owner a barbershop and publisher of a tabloid called The Cricket, becoming accepted lore. However, Donald M. Marquis could find no evidence of either the shop or the broadsheet when researching his definite biography In Search of Buddy Bolden.

Both fabled avocations figure into Michael Ondaatje’s Buddy Bolden novel Coming Through Slaughter, which was adapted for the stage in Germany. The music featuring Dietrich Geese, Wolfgang Schmidtke, and Otto Beatus (none of whom I know anything about) among others, is actually pretty good, but presumably the script echoed mythical elements of Ondaatje’s book. Wynton Marsalis (him again) is involved with a Bolden film currently filming in North Carolina, which should continue to keep images of jazz’s Adam in our consciousness.

For some reason we remain fascinated with Bolden, the legendary Gabriel, whose horn could be heard all the way across town, only to be laid low by his inner demons. He is in many ways an apt symbol for what the Jazz Foundation does. See you May 17th uptown.