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January/February 2006

Donald Marquis
In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz

This is a new edition of a book that set a sort of standard for early jazz research when it first appeared in 1978. Before then, far too much New Orleans jazz history was a matter of restating the conclusions of earlier writers and spinning out a few colorful Storyville stories. Marquis took a very different tack, starting with every reference to the legendary creator of jazz and tracking down all the hard evidence relating to his brief, tumultuous life that could be accessed.

The title is well chosen (the less felicitous subtitle being the publisher's idea), a tacit admission that there just isn't enough known about Bolden to fill a normal modern biography. Marquis fills in the blanks with volumes of detail about New Orleans and the neighborhoods Bolden lived and worked in, his friends, family and associates, etc. Though this makes the book more demanding for readers whose interest may not extend deeply into the subject it really is the perfect approach, allowing a picture to emerge that may remain faint but is as accurate as anything we can ever have. The new edition includes various corrections and a useful epilogue, making an excellent book even better.

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