Bolden: The Story Behind the Movie

How the “inventor of jazz" was brought to life onscreen

Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877-1931) grew up in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century to forge a new kind of music. Fusing blues, ragtime, and gospel with an improvisational urgency anchored by his cornet’s sensual sound, Bolden is believed to have “invented” jazz, one of America’s few indigenous art forms and its earliest and most important cultural export.

Gary Carr as Charles "Buddy" Bolde
Gary Carr as Charles “Buddy” Bolden (photo: Fred Norris)

Not many people have heard of Buddy Bolden, but his musical influence has touched each one of us. In director Dan Pritzker’s drama Bolden, released nationwide by Abromorama on May 3, actor Gary Carr portrays this haunted figure, both in his prime and in the bleak Louisiana insane asylum where he was committed in 1907 and spent the last 24 years of his life. While Louis Armstrong (Reno Wilson) performs a seminal concert in New Orleans—the first time an African-American musician spoke on the radio—Bolden’s mind wanders back to the time when he was known as “King Bolden.” It was during this time that his wife Nora (Yaya DaCosta) endured his self-destructive lifestyle; his manager (Erik LaRay Harvey) brought Bolden to new highs and shocking lows; and white establishment figures (Ian McShane, Michael Rooker) enforced the brutal racial code of the era.

Featuring music by Wynton Marsalis (also an executive producer of the film), Bolden blends an intoxicating style with an immersive, between-the-lines narrative that takes one of history’s forgotten artists and places him where he belongs: front-and-center among America’s most vibrant musical legacies. 

This article is sponsored by the makers of Bolden.