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

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven 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…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 22 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Chris Potter, Sons of Kemet, Stephan Crump, Brittany Anjou, Julian Lage, Joey DeFrancesco and Antonio Sanchez

Poetry

Seventeen poets contribute 21 poems in this month’s edition…

The Joys of Jazz

In new podcasts, Bob Hecht tells three stories; one about Miles Davis’ use of space in his music, one on the mutual admiration society of Sinatra, Lady Day, and Lester Young, and the other about the train in jazz and blues music.

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Ida B. Wells” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #126

In 1964, along with the orchestra of arranger Lalo Schifrin (pictured), this flutist/alto sax player recorded one of the first “Jazz Masses,” and soon after studied transcendental meditation in India. He would eventually become well known as a composer of music for meditation. Who is he?

Great Encounters

Dexter Gordon tells the story of joining Louis Armstrong’s band in 1944, and how they enjoyed their intermission time.

Art

In this edition of Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light,” photographs of Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk are featured.

Short Fiction

"Strings of Solace," a short story by Kimberly Parish Davis

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

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

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Coming Soon

National Book Award winning author for non-fiction Jeffrey Stewart is interviewed about his book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

In the previous issue

The question “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?” was posed via email to a small number of prominent and diverse people, and the responses of Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who participated...Also, the publication of the winning story in our 50th Short Fiction contest; an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; a collection of jazz poetry; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; the March edition of "On the Turntable," and lots more...Click here to be taken to the issue.

Contributing writers

Site Archive