The “perplexing” and “puzzling” Buddy Bolden photograph

May 24th, 2014

bolden1
Back row, left to right:  Jimmy Johnson, Buddy Bolden, Willie Cornish, and William Warner; front row, left to right: Jefferson Mumford and Frank Lewis

_____

bolden2
The same photograph with the image reversed

*

While reading through Donald Marquis’ outstanding In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz (1978), I was reminded about the only photograph in existence of Bolden — perhaps the most famous photograph in the history of jazz.  Here is what Marquis learned about it while writing his book…

_______________

     [Buddy] Bolden’s popularity hit its peak in 1905 and that was the only year most of his sidemen were listed as musicians in the city directory. The regular band at that time included Bolden, cornet; Willie Cornish, valve trombone; Brock Mumford, guitar; Cornelius Tillman, drums; Fran Lewis, b-flat clarinet; Willie Warner, c-clarinet, and Jimmy Johnson, bass. Bolden and Lewis, the best reading musicians in the band, taught Bolden’s repertoire to the others.

     The one actual photograph that has been found of the band pictures these regulars, with the exception of Cornelius Tillman, whose absence is unexplained. This photograph has been printed in nearly every major book on jazz and continues to perplex meticulous jazz scholars. The original came from Willie Cornish, who loaned it to Charles E. Smith to use in Jazzmen [Jazzmen: The Story of Hot Jazz Told in the Lives of the Men Who Created It, by Charles Smith and Frederic Ramsey (1939)], Jr.Bella Cornish later loaned it to Leonard Bechet, Sidney’s brother, and when he died the original was never recovered. When it was first printed the caption state “before 1895.” Bunk Johnson, however, provided this information and because he claimed to have joined the band in 1895 it was necessary for him to say that the picture had been taken before he was a member. For years the “before 1895” date was thrown in automatically whenever the picture was copied. There are several reasons to believe that the date was actually closer to 1905, one reason being that Bunk Johnson’s other information concerning Bolden is off by almost exactly ten years. Jimmy Johnson is the key man in dating the photograph. According to his marriage certificate Jimmy was born in 1884; this date was verified by Louis Cottrell, Jr., who roomed with Johnson for seven years while both were touring with Don Albert’s band in the 1930s. The quality of the picture is so poor it is difficult to judge Johnson’s precise age, but it is nonetheless evident that he is older than eleven.

     Another puzzling aspect of the photograph is the way the musicians are holding their instruments. As originally printed in Jazzmen the fingering positions of the clarinetists indicated that the picture may have been printed backward. When the picture is reversed to correct these poses, however, both Johnson on bass and Mumford on guitar would seem to be playing left-handed. Johnson was not a left-handed bass player, and Mumford’s family and others who knew him say he was not left-handed either. Bolden is also holding his cornet an unusual way, flat in his open palm. Whatever the explanation for these curious poses there is no doubt that this is Bolden’s band. Among the many who have identified the group and its individual members are Beatrice Alcorn, Ed Garland, Tom Alpert, Papa John Joseph, and Willie Parker.

__________

Excerpted from In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz

by Donald Marquis

buddybolden3

_____

Read our production of “An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans,” with an introduction by Nat Hentoff

Read our conversation with Gary Giddins, “A History of Jazz in New Orleans

Share this:

One comments on “The “perplexing” and “puzzling” Buddy Bolden photograph”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...Also in this issue, in celebration of Blue Note’s 80th year, we asked prominent writers and musicians the following question: “What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums; a new collection of jazz poetry; “On the Turntable,” is a new playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings from six artists – Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian and Aaron Burnett; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Jazz History Quiz”; a new feature called “Pressed for All Time,”; a new photo-narrative by Charles Ingham; and…lots more.

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett

Poetry

In this month’s collection, with great jazz artists at the core of their work, 16 poets remember, revere, ponder, laugh, dream, and listen

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob presents two stories, one on Clifford Brown (featuring the trumpeter Charlie Porter) and the other is part two of his program on stride piano, including a conversation with Mike Lipskin

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer Creed Taylor about how he came to use tape overdubs during the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing a Song of Basie recording session

Art

"Thinking About Charlie Parker" -- a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

"The Photography Issue" will feature an interview with jazz photographer Carol Friedman (her photo of Wynton Marsalis is pictured), as well as with Michael Cuscuna on unreleased photos by Blue Note's Francis Wolff.

In the previous issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive