May 1, 2019

Overdue Biopic Pays Tribute to Jazz Pioneer

JAZZ MAN: Gary Carr stars as Buddy Bolden, a cornet player whose genius as an early jazz pioneer has been mostly forgotten by history. His story is imagined in “Bolden.” (Image courtesy of King Bolden LLC)

By Kam Williams

Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) was born in New Orleans, where he took up the cornet at an early age. His unique approach to the instrument involved a novel form of improvisation while playing a combination of gospel, blues, and ragtime.

Well before the emergence of Louis Armstrong, Buddy was a popular bandleader credited with creating a new genre of music: jazz. Sadly, this genius has mostly been forgotten by history because no recordings or arrangements of his songs survived.

However, thanks to legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in collaboration with writer/director Dan Pritzker, we now have Bolden, a brilliant biopic painting a poignant portrait of what Buddy’s life might have been like. Marsalis composed, arranged, and played on the soundtrack, relying on what scraps of his subject’s work he could unearth.

Similarly, Pritzker cobbled together a speculative storyline based on the few facts available about Bolden. What we do know is that his career ended in 1907 when he was committed to a mental institution, where he would spend the last of his days in obscurity.

Bolden is basically a flashback movie unfolding from the surreal perspective of a patient struggling to make sense of his life. The film stars Gary Carr, who delivers a riveting performance as black man whose spirit has been broken by racism and a host of other maladies flowing from that oppression.

Don’t miss this overdue tribute to a forgotten jazz pioneer.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality, graphic nudity, profanity, ethnic slurs, brutal violence, and drug use. Running time: 108 minutes. Production Company: King Bolden LLC. Distributor: Abramorama.