Buddy Bolden Remembered


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Under the umbrella title of Bayou Jazz lives, Continuum has released three titles thus far that should appeal to jazz lovers. Teddy Wilson Talks Jazz and Marshal Royal: Jazz Survivor are two of the titles; the third is BUDDY BOLDEN AND THE LAST DAYS OF STORYVILLE by Danny Barker (edited by Alyn Shipton).

Barker was one of the early heroes of jazz, a guitarist, banjoist, singer and composer who played with most of the great names in his field: Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton, to name but a few. Barker was also a keen writer and researcher whose autobiography A Life in Jazz has become a classic. He was hopeful that his writings on jazz's infancy and early social environment would also be published, but unfortunately Barker died (in 1994) before that separate volume could be completed.

Now, however, Shipton has assembled the pieces Barker managed to finish and put them into six chapters, most of which deal with New Orleans in the early days of the last century. In "A Memory of King Bolden," Barker remembers Buddy Bolden, arguably the greatest trumpet player who ever lived. Barker talked to people who had either played with, or listened to, Bolden when he led the house band at Lincoln Park, which came into prominence right after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

"At the cease of fighting in the Civil War with guns, there was the period of reconstruction that has never stopped until this day," said Dude Bottley, who helped run Lincoln Park with his brother, Buddy. "The South and New Orleans, humiliated by the Union army, Yankee invaders, carpetbaggers and scalawags, retaliated with all sorts of jimcrow, discriminating laws and restrictions against the Negro.

"One was that Negroes were prohibited from congregating in any public park under the penalty of fine and imprisonment. So that was the end of Congo Square." Festivities moved to an open-air area uptown that was owned by a local black entrepeneur, who built a pavilion and dance floor. Lincoln Park was jammed daily with folks looking for a good time. There were baseball games, greased-pig competitions, hot-air balloon rides and music.

The leader of the music was Bolden, the superbly groomed trumpeter whose playing dazzled the onlookers, especially the women among them. "He would take two or three of them home with him. He sure could hypnotize a woman--he was like a god or something," Bottley told Barker. "He'd come to play with three or four women trailing behind him. One carrying his horn, one carrying his hat, another toting his alcohol and all of them behaving like sisters."

Bolden's reign as king of jazz (and its groupies) was unfortunately cut short by mental illness (which Barker feels was exacerbated by the racism of the times), but many other great players came after him, if only because New Orleans was such a breedings grounds for jazz and blues, thanks to its infamous red-light district, Storyville.

Barker devotes three chapters to Storyville, which took up about a third of downtown New Orleans between 1900 and 1915. The white tenderloin was run by Tom Anderson, the black by Bob Rowe, "who was loved and supported by Ready Money, who eventually became the district's most famous Negro madame."

It was there in the brothels, speakeasies, gambling dens and cribs of Storyville that jazz and blues flourished; vice and great music have always gone hand in hand. Barker brings back those colorful, violent, high-living days with much gusto and skill. He also writes frankly and vividly about the "houses of ill repute" where musicians like him resided when they were traveling (and banned by segregation from the white hotels). Another juicy chapter is the last one, in which he looks back at Harlem and its "smoke houses" of the 1930s.