Charles “Buddy” Bolden was a New Orleans cornetist who was active for a brief moment just before and after the turn of the 20th century.
Though Bolden is far from a household name, many people cite him as the first musician who, at the time, was able to fuse together a variety of styles — ragtime, blues and spirituals — to form the style of music we know today as jazz.
Though Bolden’s band saw some popularity during his time in New Orleans, he never made it big despite his long-lasting impact as a musician.
Bolden’s life was plagued with hardships, culminating in a mental breakdown that overtook him in the early part of the 20th century. Bolden spent the last 25 years of his life at the Jackson State Insane Asylum.
Atlanta saxophonist Jeff Crompton has composed an original opera all about Bolden’s life and music, called simply “The Buddy Bolden Opera.”
The piece is a short chamber opera around 45 minutes long and comprised of new music that pays homage to the late musician. The opera tells the story of the end of Bolden’s musical career, during his mental breakdown.
Crompton and actor and vocalist Marcus Hopkins-Turner, who plays Bolden in the production, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes for a conversation about the opera and the life of Buddy Bolden.
The opera can be streamed in its entirety on YouTube.