Buddy Bolden is a name you may not know, but you should. Without his genius we wouldn’t have the great jazz music of today. The New Orleans musician is considered one of the founding fathers of jazz. Born in 1877 and died in 1931 at an insane aslyum, his story has not been told — until now.
Directed and written by Daniel Pritzker with music by the legendary Wynton Marsalis, this powerful film resurrects Buddy Bolden with grace, beauty and compassion. Much of the movie is a reimagining of Bolden life with what little details that are known, starting from his roots in Jim Crow New Orleans to his tragic decline. While this is a film centered around music, it also taps into mental health, and the long-lasting damage of racism to one’s soul.
The film opens with Buddy, played brilliantly by up and coming actor Gary Carr who is most known for his role in “Downton Abbey,” listening to a radio performance of Louis Armstrong, who was influenced by Bolden. Through his mental illness, the audience is taken on a journey of Bolden’s life, which is filled with violence, poverty and the fight for his music. Bolden, who played the cornet, trusted no one in the music business and was afraid to record in fear of someone stealing his compositions, which most Black artists would struggle with shortly after music became a money-making machine.
Using dream-like sequences and the exquisite music of Marsalis, the film masterfully creates a portrait of Bolden’s life. The movie is carried by Carr, who made Bolden’s soul jump off the screen. The supporting cast includes Yaya Dacosta as his girlfriend, veteran actor Robert Ri’chard as his band member and a spot-on performance from Reno Wilson as Louis Armstrong.
“Bolden” is a beautiful story about a forgotten pioneer in jazz. Most importantly, the film is a piece of Black history that has not been properly acknowledge. For some, the story might be too specific or narrow. But specificity and focus in a Black story that has been wiped away from history should never be considered cinematic weakness. Considering how so many Black biopics are botched and exploitative, this film was a proper salute to the late, great Buddy Bolden.
“Bolden” is a film not to miss and opens in select cities tomorrow. Watch the trailer below: