“I think the movie [Bolden] accepted that Buddy Bolden was just a man,” says Don Marquis, the author of the New Orleans cornetist’s definitive biography, In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. “He wasn’t a genius. He was just a man who played the cornet and who played a certain type of music that very few people were playing at the time. It was the creation of a new era.”
Marquis, a jazz historian and retired curator of the Louisiana State Museum, was meticulous in his research in preparation for writing the book, which was first published in 1978, with a revised edition published 2005. No facts entered its pages without verification, and he put to rest many of the tales and rumors that had long been told about Bolden, and even printed as true in other publications. No, Buddy Bolden wasn’t a barber, though he did hang around barbershops in his Central City neighborhood.
“In general, it’s a good following of the book,” says Marquis, while allowing that “movies are different than books.” His knowledge and insights on Bolden naturally were sought by the movie’s director, Daniel Pritzker.
“I think it brings Bolden more out in the open, and shows what he actually did, the problems he had, and the contributions he made to the music,” Marquis says “The movie presented actual places in New Orleans. Mahogany Hall came to life, and representations of his neighborhood–Perdido Street, South Rampart Street, and Lincoln Park–were made authentic. It was obvious that this music, jazz, was put together in New Orleans.” Brass brands were a big part of the beginning of jazz, and Bolden performed mostly for dances, parties, and outdoor concerts. They said that people came out of the church dancing when he played.
“The movie also emphasizes what things were like in the 1930s when Louis Armstrong was playing, and trying to remember what he thought Buddy Bolden sounded like,” says Marquis.
“I think it does a good presentation of the man. At the time the word ‘jazz wasn’t yet invented.”.
Marquis’ book includes wonderful, personal quotes by the few folks who were privileged enough (and well, old enough), to hear Buddy Bolden, like the “little fella” in Plaquemine who lent Bolden his “pot metal” cornet when the valves were stuck on Bolden’s horn, making it impossible to blow. There are also copies of birth and death certificates, and a copy of Bolden’s admission certificate into the Insane Asylum of Louisiana, often referred to as “Jackson” in the book.
“The first time he was arrested for insanity, he was listed as a musician, but the next time he was listed as a laborer,” says Marquis “It was obvious he was out of music and out of life. In those days, if you went to a place like Jackson, especially if you were a black person, it was a one-way trip.”