Jazz Music and Musicians

Who formed the first black jazz band?

In 1891 Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877–1931) was the first black to form what may have been a real jazz band, in New Orleans. His band incorporated blues and ragtime. He has been called the patriarch of jazz, and because of his fierce, driving tone, he was known as “King Bolden.” A plasterer by trade, Bolden developed a cornet style that influenced musicians such as King Oliver and Dizzy Gillespie. Bolden was born in New Orleans and took his first formal music lesson from a neighbor around 1895. Soon he adapted his own style of playing from the music that he heard around town, in barbershops, and at parades. He also played in small string bands, often for parties and dances. A friendly and gregarious person, Bolden was a ladies’ man. As a performer, he was more comfortable in uptown New Orleans than downtown and never played at the Creole society halls. His greatest rival was John Robichaux, a Creole whose band played for wealthy plantation owners, brokers, and other white professionals. Bolden’s popularity peaked in 1905. In an effort to remain ahead of his competitors, he took on more and more jobs but soon realized that his style was no longer new. Frustrated, he began to drink heavily, had spells of depression, and sometimes was jailed for his behavior. He was diagnosed as paranoid in 1907, and on June 5 of that year he was committed to East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson, Louisiana, where he spent the last twenty-four years of his life. While there, however, he played a horn on some occasions, but was not a member of the patients’ band. He died in Parker Hospital, on the grounds of the institution where he had been institutionalized, on November 4, 1931, at age fifty-four.


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