When you think of jazz exactly who comes to mind?
A new biopic, executive produced by Wynton Marsalis, wants to make sure that your list includes Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and also the great Buddy Bolden.
Bolden is a film that explores the life of the New Orleans native who some believe “invented” jazz and gave it its signature swag. Like many creative geniuses, Bolden also had massive demons which eventually left him in an insane asylum causing his talent and impact to be overlooked, until now.
“People didn’t talk about Bolden,” says Marsalis. “Older musicians would say he played loud; he had many women, he drank — his story was really like a rock ’n’ roll story. If you take what people know of a rock star, that’s the mythology of Buddy Bolden.”
The film takes place in the 1900s in New Orleans and stars actors Gary Carr, Reno Wilson, Erik LaRay Harvey and Yaya DaCosta. In interviews with theGrio, each reflected on the triumph of Buddy Bolden in an era plagued by deadly racism.
“Bolden is the spark that inspired a young boy like Louis Armstrong to do what he did,” says Wilson, who plays Armstrong in the film.
“Bolden took the hit. He might have just been a little bipolar, a little bit you know eccentric or whatever, but this is in a period in time where it wasn’t cool to be that.”
“Some would say that would be Kanye [West] today. So he put Kanye in 18-whatever they might have thrown his ass in an insane asylum, which is crazy because we have so many examples of artists who are on that edge of sanity.”
Armstrong once said that Buddy Bolden was “just a one-man genius that was ahead of them all … too good for his time.” Finally, all these years later, he is being recognized for the major role he played in the development of one of America’s greatest musical genres.
“His music was just so important because you know it just brought people out of a doldrum,” says Harvey, who plays Bartley, Bolden’s manager.
“There were living life, but not really living life you know?” he says, referring to the racism and oppression of the time.
The film also offers a point of interest for a new generation looking to understand Black musical pioneers of the past. In New York City, Pipeline Theater is running a play dedicated to Bolden’s life called, “Playing Hot,” which boasts live musicians and even a dance party.
Bolden is the 10 years in the making passion project of writer and director, Dan Pritzker, heir to family that owns Hyatt hotels. It’s shot multiple times over and over again and the final product has an entirely different cast than what was originally planned.
After the long wait, Bolden hits theaters on May 3rd.
Watch our full interviews with the cast of ‘Bolden’ above.