After Years of Delays, ‘Bolden’ Explores the Life of Jazz Pioneer Buddy Bolden

Bolden (Credit: Fred Norris)

Few people outside of Louisiana know his name, even though Charles “Buddy” Bolden is considered a founding father of jazz.

The new drama Bolden explores the New Orleans cornet player’s tortured life — from hardship in the deep South in the early 1900s, to his death in an insane asylum in 1931.

While Bolden is considered a key figure in the birth of jazz, not much is known about his life.

Director Dan Pritzker, a musician and songwriter, was so taken with what he heard about Bolden’s story that he spent two decades trying to turn it into a film.

“I was playing music and I heard about this guy Bolden, and I was like ‘who is he?’ And I was told he invented jazz,”  Pritzker told Urban Hollywood 411. “To hear that there was a guy who started it all, that we never heard of, struck me as both tragic and poetic.”

Pritzker read the book In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz by Donald M. Marquis, and began prepping the project in 1998. With few historical accounts about Bolden available, he and co-writer David Rothschild pieced together a narrative inspired by what they had learned.

“There’s no recording of Bolden and there’s one photograph of him, so there’s so little known about the guy that it allowed me to do American mythology, which is what motivated me to do this in the first place,” he said.

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Bolden ( Credit: Fred Norris)
The actors were taught how to handle the instruments. (Courtesy: Fred Norris)

Bolden was born in New Orleans in 1877. He suffered a mental breakdown at age 30 and spent the rest of his life in Louisiana’s state asylum until his death in 1931.

The biopic stars British actor Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) as Bolden. Yaya DaCosta plays his wife. Erik LaRay Harvey, Reno Wilson, Karimah Westbrook, Michael Rooker and Ian McShane co-star in the film.

Pritzker initially shot the biopic using a different cast, with then up-and-coming actor Anthony Mackie in the lead role. After production was halted amid a series of delays, Mackie’s career took off and he was no longer available.

“It’s really on me, my bad because I really didn’t know what I was doing when I went into this,” Pritzker said about his early efforts at directing the film.

Pritzker,  whose family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain, decided to start over in 2014. He enlisted jazz great Wynton Marsalis to write, arrange and perform the music, and serve as an executive producer.

One of Bolden’s signature songs was the “Funky Butt,” also known as “Buddy Bolden’s Blues.” A re-imagining of the song is featured prominently in the film.

Pritzker hopes his jazz-infused drama will finally give Buddy Bolden the recognition he deserves.

Bolden is now playing in select cities. Check local listings.