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Buddy Bolden: The Founding Father of Jazz

Buddy Bolden

The Influence of Buddy Bolden & An Overview of Jazz Music

  • There would be no jazz music without the contributions of Buddy Bolden, who is credited for creating the genre itself.
  • Jazz started in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was a cosmopolitan city, pre-emancipation. The city had Africans, whites, french, and Hispanic people.
  • Many of the formational characteristics of jazz came from the Congo Square.
    • The Congo Square was famous for its history in black music. Slaves went there to congregate and make music on Sundays when they were “off” from work at the masters house. The spanish were there, the french were there, everyone would congregate in this space. Individuals would play Djembe’s, horns, trumpets, etc. and all of their music would come together, pre-emancipation.

Characteristics of Jazz Music

  • Improvisation
    • Blacks used the technical training they received when they performed in opera houses, in jazz and blues through the technique of improvisation. This showed an intense amount of musical skill
  • None of the jazz music was written down. It was all improvised, which makes the genre that much more difficult.

Social Implications of Jazz Music

  • Subsets of jazz like bebop were formed by black musicians as a form of rebellion against white infiltration in traditional jazz & swing.
    • Bebop is faster than traditional jazz & coincides with the evolution of black culture. It emphasizes the creativity of the black performer.

The Founding Father of Jazz: Buddy Bolden

  • Buddy Bolden was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1877 and died there on November 4th, 1931.
  • Throughout his career, he led and worked with several jazz bands in New Orleans. His own band was most popular from 1900 – 1907.
  • Bolden was known for his excellency in improvisation and for the iconic loud sound that he created through the playing of his cornet. This sound was completely unique and Bolden achieved it by playing by ear.
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One of Bolden’s most popular songs was “Funky Butt”, A song with lyrics that described the conditions of hot and cramped dance halls that listeners of his music would dance in. 

  • Bolden was considered one of the first jazz musicians. Because of the way he played his cornet.
  • Sphere-headed the “Big Four” style in which there was emphasis on every other fourth beat.
  • Buddy Bolden is often referred to as the “Founding Father” of jazz and as “King Bolden.”
  • Most of what is known about Bolden has been discovered through oral histories, and unfortunately, a recording of Bolden playing was never created, thus we as listeners will not have the opportunity to know exactly how he sounded.
  • Bolden’s major contributions to the creation of jazz have left a lasting impact on the genre and on the culture of African-American music as a whole. His style of playing up and down the street with his bands was often used in funerals, and this is still a popular practice in New Orleans today.
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