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New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Buddy Bolden

Musician credited with starting the sounds that became jazz

Charles "Buddy" Bolden, born in New Orleans in 1877, was considered the first person to play what later became known as jazz.

Buddy was known for his ability to sink himself into what fans called “the trance,” where nothing mattered but the music. He brought improvisation to the stage for the first time as he plunged deeper and deeper into his music on stage with his popular band. As people walked through the night, men and women heard the wild notes climbing the scales, and knew it was “The King.” Songs first associated with his band, include “Careless Love,” “My Bucket's Got a Hole in It,” “Get Out of Here and Go Home,” and “Funky Butt.” The crowds would go crazy. “Simmer down,” Buddy was once quoted as saying, “Let me hear the sound of them feet.”

In 1907, in the middle of a parade, Buddy halted and screamed. Some say it was “brainsickness,” others were sure it was a voodoo curse. The doctors diagnosed it as dementia praecox (now called schizophrenia), and his mother admitted him to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at the age of 30. He remained there until his death nearly 25 later. While Buddy’s musical life was short, the impact he would have on music was not. According to Louis Armstrong, “He was just a one-man genius that was ahead of them all … too good for his time.”