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The Curious Tie between a Founding Father of Jazz and Maroon 5

buddy_bolden
The only known photo of Buddy Bolden. He is holding the cornet in the rear.

Who would have thought that the band that played the Super Bowl halftime show would next be in the news because a band member is trying to save the home of a mythical jazz legend?

It’s odd, and it’s a good thing. The Maroon 5 member is keyboard player PJ Morton. He announced this week that he is starting a drive to save the home of Buddy Bolden, the man credited with “inventing jazz.”

We’ll return to Morton in a moment. But, in the spirit of what he is trying to accomplish, let’s start with Bolden.

Charles Joseph Bolden was a New Orleans cornet player who lived from 1877 to 1931. His career coincided with the birth of sound recording. King Oliver was in the future. Louis Armstrong was in the future. Jelly Roll Morton was in the future. So were Miles, Dizzy and Duke. Adam Levine was (way) in the future. More than any one person – and to the extent that such a thing is possible – Bolden is credited with “inventing” jazz.

Wikipedia says he combined a more improvised version of ragtime with blues and gospel to form a genre originally referred to as “jass.” Mike Ballantyne provides some interesting context.

The mystical element of the story is that no known recordings and only one photograph of Bolden exist. There are rumors that he made at least cylinder, but it has not been found. There is nothing like a hint of mystery to cement an individual’s place in the popular imagination. It’s like the missing Shakespeare plays. It’s unlikely any of those plays was called “Funky Butt,” however.  That is the name of one of Bolden’s most popular songs.

Usually, we present music choices along with the posts. That’s impossible in the case of Buddy Bolden. Don Maquis wrote a biography of the mythical giant that at least one expert called “outstanding.” Click here or on the link. For those interested in a broader view, check out “The Great Jazz Interviews: A 75th Anniversary Anthology” from Downbeat. I got it as a gift. It’s terrific. Click here to find out more.
Bolden was popular from about 1900 to 1907. Wikipedia says that he “was known for his loud sound and improvisational skills.” Of course, the New Orleans of those days was an extremely rough place. At least some of Bolden’s songs were crude – clearly including “Funky Butt,” which was renamed for use in polite company.

Bolden was mentally ill – experts today suspect schizophrenia – and committed to The Louisiana State Insane Asylum soon before he died.

Back to PJ Morton, who is a solo artist as well as a member of Maroon 5: The New Orleans Advocate quotes Morton describing his deep connection to the Bolden’s home, which is owned by The Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. The irony is that pastors of the church are Morton’s parents:

“I literally grew up 10 steps from his (Bolden’s) house going to my Dad’s church, and I was there four times a week and had no idea…”

The church had not made necessary repairs requested by jazz historians and preservationists, probably due to lack of funds. Push came to shove when the city said it would fine the church $500 daily if work did not begin within a month of a March 26 hearing. The story details the plans to save the building by the non-profit Morton has created.

Related Story: Who was Buddy Bolden?
Back once more to Bolden. Many artists, including Dr. John, have recorded a song called “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” by Jelly Roll Morton. The first time I heard the title I thought that it would be a somber and wistful rumination on the passage of time, the mists of history and the sadness of never having heard the giant play and know so little about him.

I was a bit off. The song sort of picks the parts of “Funky Butt” that could be recorded. Here are the first two verses of the original, according to Ballantyne:

I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,
Funky butt funky butt, take it away,
Stinky butt funky butt, take it away,
I thought I heard him say.

I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout,
Open up the window an’ let the bad air out,
Open up the window an’ let the bad air out,
I thought I heard him shout.

The song and the original “Funky Butt” aren’t ruminations on the birth of jazz. They are ruminations on the air quality late at night in a crowded dance hall.

The Daily Music Break’s theme is that far less separates music than meets the ear. Nothing could conceivably do a better job of illustrating that the point than a post that focuses on Buddy Bolden and Maroon 5.

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Also of Interest

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.