Buddy Bolden of New Orleans: A Jazz Poem
Cornetist Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) elevated a marching band horn into the voice of the world's newest musical style-jazz. He formed his first band in 1895 and within a short time rose from the Kid to the King of jazz, performing in dance halls, brothels, and funeral parades. Despite Bolden's wild success, his modern reputation relies solely on memory, for no recording of his music has survived. By the late 1920s, the fast life of women, booze, and music had caught up with Bolden, and he spent his last years in an asylum. Everywhere one looks in Bisso's verse, there is the rhythm of New Orleans: St. John's Day/ Holding Moma Alice's hand/ On the brickyard/ At the Voodoo festival// Where the Zombies moved/ Like crazy spirits and/ The bone men pounded/ On their barrel drums/ Dansez Bomboula/Bomboula Bamboula Bamboula. Bisso evokes the scene and the sound of an early Bolden gig in Storyville: The whores breaking out/ And kicking high to the stomp/ Moving swift and quick/ Lifting those legs in turn/ Up to the high ham kick// Blowing those blues/ Buddy's blues/ Burying the truth/ Deep in the bone/ Of the word. But as the story progresses, Bolden's many obsessions take over the narrative: music, liquor, and women-in particular , a certain woman named Chloe: Chloe walking the line/ Between the PIs/ Doing her things/ By herself// Chloe a face/ Chloe a mask/ Chloe the eyes ivory white/ Chloe the look agate brown/ Chloe the teeth with a flash/ Chloe the skin virgin olive/ Chloe/ ChloeChloeChloeChloe. Burning his candle at both ends, Bolden eventually succumbed to migraine headaches and lost control of his emotions, his mind, and his music. On Labor Day parade/ Him playing wild high notes/ Like a Banshee yell/ A Bamboula scream/ From the Voodoo days// He be working too hard/ He be womaning too much/ He be thinking too high/ He be feeling too deep/ He be burning too long// Some day/ They are a coming/ To take him away/ Buddy knowing/ He's got to go. Once you get/ To be a Kid/ You a Kid/ For life// And that/ Is something// But when you get to be/ A King/ You last so long/ As the memory/ Of a song/ The echo/ Of a dream. Produced by Joanne Linville and Chris Rydell. Poem narrated by Charlie Robinson, a veteran actor in television, stage, and film. Background music features Bunk Johnson, playing Buddy Bolden's turn-of-the-century music. About the author Ray Bisso, born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, derives his credentials as a jazz poet from his experiences as a trumpet player, leader of the Memphis Bold Jazzband, and owner of a New Orleans-style jazz club. He has a degree in English from UCLA and is an author of other jazz poems and fiction. Critics' Quotes There are few people in jazz more legendary than Buddy Bolden. Authors have been trying to get a handle on him since jazz writing began in the late \'30s. Bits and pieces have appeared in all sorts of different places, and Bisso seems to have located and assembled thse bits into a coherent, moving narrative. Paige Van Vorst, Jazz Critic The poetic biography, written in sixteen cantos, brings into clear focus the backdrop that launched a great American artform. We can feel the humid air, smell the stale beer in the halls and honky tonks, and the cheap perfume of Bolden's bevy of "ladies" who clamored for his attention. Each canto leads us through a period in Bolden's life-his first horn, his first band in 1895-a fast life that ended in an asylum. Floyd Levin, Jazz Critic Bisso is armed with a taste for the terse. It serves his poetry well. It was jazz that taught him the rhythms and the blues feeling and the love of Buddy and his people that make this book-length poem so warm and richly compelling. David Levinson, Music Critic.