Lost Interview with Buddy Bolden Found

Apr 1, 2009 by

The following text was transcribed from documents found in a water damaged armoire in the attic of 601 Piety Street of the New Orleans 9th Ward neighborhood. The documents were salvaged by demolition workers contracted to destroy the home per the City of New Orleans’ blighted housing laws. Put up for auction on Ebay in December of 2001, these papers sold for $17.47. The opening bid was $1. Until this morning they have not been made public.


Transcript of unpublished interview with Charles “Buddy” Bolden, conducted by Marshall Trumbo at Bolden’s place of residence, the Louisiana State Asylum for the Insane in Jackson, Louisiana, recorded and transcribed by Benjamin Price on August 13, 1923

Trumbo: Mr. Bolden, I appreciate you giving me your time this morning.

Bolden: Don’t see many white folk in this place. ‘Ceptin’ the doctors. You look familiar to me. I know you?

Trumbo: Mr. Bolden, do you feel all right – I mean, do you feel up for this interview?

Bolden: Whatcha mean do I feel alright? Course I’m all right. Do I look like I ain’t alright?

Trumbo: No, no, of course not. I mean, you look fine. It’s just that —

Bolden: Just that since I’m in a place for crazies must mean I’m crazy, and so maybe I ain’t alright. Crazy folk scare you, mister?

Trumbo: Well, no —

Bolden: Don’t lie. I kin tell if ya lie. Us crazies got a sense for such things.

Trumbo: This place makes me very ill at ease if you must know.

Bolden: (smiling) Well, if you must know; kinda makes me ill at ease too. Thought I’d get used to it, but I ain’t yet. Been a coupla years too.

Trumbo: It’s been sixteen years, Mr. Bolden.

Bolden: That long? Really? Shee-it. I guess time flies when yer havin’ fun. (laughs) Well, my sense of passin’ time done got messed up long ago. Call me Buddy, mister. You are white, ain’t ya? Makes me nervous when white people start callin’ me Mr. Bolden. White folks start callin’ a niggra “mister,” usually means something bad gonna happen.

Trumbo: All right, Buddy.

Bolden: Doc says you from the newspaper.

Trumbo: That’s right. I’m from the New Orleans Item.

Bolden: Must be a slow news day, you comin’ all the way out to the crazy farm just to talk to an old beaten nigger like me. If you come to hang somethin’ on me, I sure hope it’s somethin’ ta get hung for. Dyin’s all I got left ‘bout now, and I don’t see much point in waitin’ around.

Trumbo: What I came to talk to you about….(long pause)

Bolden: Take yer time, mister. Got plenty of time, me. Don’t get much company, neither.

Trumbo: Well, jazz, of course.

Bolden: Don’t sound like yer too sure about that. Why’d anyone from the news wanna talk about no fuck-music? Don’t make no sense. Maybe you crazy, too. (laughs) Well, if you are, you come to the right place. Make yerself ta home, Mr. Reporter.

Trumbo: Mr… I mean Buddy, I get the feeling you’re unaware of just how big jazz music has become in the last few years. Storyville closed down permanently six years ago, but the music of those halls has become a national phenomenon. International, in fact. It’s become quite the sensation in England and France.

Bolden: You shittin’ me?

Trumbo: No, I’m not.

Bolden: Well, I’ll be damned. How’d such a thing come about exactly?

Trumbo: The first record was made in New York City in 1917. The sound became popular very quickly after that. Many thought it a fad and predicted its popularity would fade, but it actually gets more popular every year.

Bolden: Some New York boys made a record of it?

Trumbo: No, a New Orleans outfit. Dominick Carolla and the Jim Jam Jump Orchestra. Theirs was the first big success, but they’re already considered passé. Carolla recently announced his retirement, and the new big star is a man called Jelly Roll Morton. Colored man. Creole, I think.

Bolden: I remember that kid. Name of Ferd, but insisted everyone cal him Jelly Roll. Cocky little piss. But he could play all right.

Trumbo: Buddy, do you remember Dominick Carolla?

Bolden: You mean Jim Jam Jump. Yeah, I remember that punk just fine. Stole my horn, that kid. Well, I guess technically he bought it – I mean, he left some money after he hit me over the head with the damn thing and run off. I did spend the money on a pricey hooker, but I didn’t actually consent to the sale of that horn. I loved that horn. Wanted to leave it for my son. Guess it don’t matter much since West died, though. Died so young. I wasn’t much of a daddy to that boy, sorry to say. Woulda been nice to leave him that horn, though. Only thing I ever had what meant anything. (tears visible in Bolden’s eyes)

Trumbo: I’m sorry about your son.

Bolden: Nuffa that. Why’d you come here?

Trumbo: Well, there’s great interest in the jazz phenomenon and a lot of rumors about its true origins. A good many of the older musicians who had played in the tenderloin say it was you who originated the sound. But others take credit for it.

Bolden: By “others” you mean Jim Jam Jump, I suppose.

Trumbo: Yes. Him and a few more.

Bolden: Well, he can have the credit. I don’t want it. Thass just fine with me. Sure would like that horn back, though.

Trumbo: Don’t you think, I mean, for the sake of historical accuracy, that the record should be set strai –

Bolden: Historical accuracy? (laughing loudly) Sonny, I’m about to bust a gut on that one. Who in their right mind would give a hang about the historical accuracy of “Fonky Butt”?

Trumbo: Well, the commercialized version of the music has lost some of its original vulgarity. But its sound is unique – and it’s struck an emotional chord with a lot of people.

Bolden: (becoming more serious) Ya keep calling it a sound, but that ain’t quite right, y’ know. I wouldn’t call it a sound at all. More lika feelin’.

Trumbo: A feeling?

Bolden: A feelin’. And ain’t nobody can take credit for a feelin’. Feelin’ is something – well, either you got it or you don’t. Can’t invent no feelin’.

Trumbo: Well, I suppose you can invent a way to express a feeling. Jazz might be just that; a new method of expressing –

Bolden: No. The method don’t matter. Listen, this jass thing – it mighta passed through me its first time round, but that don’t make it mine. Or nobody else’s neither. It just is.

Trumbo: Some people say it’s a matter of heritage. They say white musicians are trying to take credit for something that belongs to the coloreds.

Bolden: I say let ‘em have it. With no problem. They want the credit? They got the credit. I’m the easiest credit man in town. I say, I say, I say, I say, who-say-I-say! That won’t change what’s true – and the truth have a way of revealing itself over the long run, anyhow. I guess you could say jass enriched my life in some ways – lotsa fine women looking after me, and some pretty good money from time to time – but also it brought me low; brought me to a place like this. And maybe I was meant to end up in this place. ‘Course, it won’t sound the same nor as good if black folks ain’t playin’ it. One thing fer certain; that jass music can mess with a man’s spirit, and if they ain’t careful, could be some white folk end up in a place like this, too. Y’see, most white folk think black folk is weak of mind and spirit, and this belief makes ‘em feel superior. That superior feelin’ can keep a man from being cautious, can cause a man to slip, to fall. They can grab up all the credit they can carry, but there’s a price goes along with it.

Trumbo: I see.

Bolden: No, I don’t think you do see. No matter, though. I don’t want no damn credit for this “phenomenon,” as you call it. Too much damn responsibility. I do miss the ladies, though. Jass was definitely good for that. (smiling)

Trumbo: About Dominick Carolla –

Bolden: Jim Jam Jump, you mean. (scowling)

Trumbo: Yes, Jim Jam Jump.

Bolden: Damn punk stole my horn.

Trumbo: I was wondering what memories you may have of him personally. Any significant interactions between the two of you that you can recall?

Bolden: (pausing to think) Nah, I don’t wanna get on this. Why don’t we change the subject, sonny?

Trumbo: Soon – but I do have a question about a particular instance, if you don’t mind…

Bolden: (sighing) Alright, then. Out with it.

Trumbo: In 1891 when you were just fourteen years old – you were questioned as a witness to a murder –

Bolden: Now I’m rememberin’ how you look familiar. Son of a bitch.

Trumbo: A man called Morningstar, a preacher, was killed that night. And Caro – I mean, Jim Jam Jump was also there. But he was only a baby.

Bolden: (far away look) I seen some things that night.

Trumbo: What do you remember about that night?

Bolden: I was just a kid. Old man now. Can’t remember much of it.

Trumbo: Mr. Bolden, please…

Bolden: (angry) Goddamn it, I told you not to call me that!

Trumbo: I’m sorry, it slipped –

Bolden: What’s this about? Why you here really? You was there that night, too. Why you askin’ me? Ask yer ownself about that night. You were there. Shoulda damn known this had nothin’ to do with no fuck-music. You been playin’ me, aintcha, Mister Reporter?

Trumbo: No, no – not at all. It’s just that I’ve had dreams since that night –

Bolden: You been having dreams? Could be you’re lucky those dreams ain’t bought you a bunk next to mine. Anything I got to say to you I already said. Maybe you askin’ the wrong questions, or maybe you ain’t listening to the answers right. You want to know about all that crazy stuff, why dontcha go talk to the gravedigger? That fool nigger loves to flap his gums.

Trumbo: What gravedigger?

Bolden: You know – Marcus. From Girod Street Cemetery. Ugly son of a bitch with no nose.

Trumbo: Marcus? I remember him. What was his last name?

Bolden: Nobody Special.

Trumbo: Excuse me?

Bolden: I don’t know his real last name. Everybody call him Marcus Nobody Special. That’s all I know. Go talk to him. He remember everything. At least he tell me so in my sleep. I think we’re done here, sonny. (Getting up to leave) Thanks for the company. I got a busy day of being crazy to tend now, if you don’t mind.

Trumbo: Thank you for your time, Buddy.

Bolden: Shit. (walks away quickly through main corridor)


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