Big Sam, of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, performs on stage with PJ Morton, Ha Sizzle, and band.
I’d never heard of Buddy Bolden until last year when a friend schooled me on his story. Fast forward to about a month ago, PJ Morton posted a flyer of his upcoming event, The Buddy Bolden Block Party. As ecstatic as I was, there was no way I was going to miss the event. Bolden’s interesting and inspiring story is a part of our history and culture. I was happy to be apart.
If you’re not familiar with the legend of Buddy Bolden, here’s his deal:
Known as a key figure in the birth of Jazz, Buddy Bolden and his band were popular in New Orleans from 1900 to 1907. Though there are no known recordings of Bolden, he was known for his loud sound, improvisation of mixing ragtime and blues, and his style which had an impact on aspiring musicians. Unfortunately, in 1907, at the age of 30, Bolded was diagnosed with what is now called Schizophrenia after suffering an episode of acute alcoholic psychosis. He was admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at Jackson where he lived until his death in 1931 at age 54.
Derrick Shezbie, trumpeter of Rebirth Brass Band, practicing his trumpet on the side of Buddy Bolden’s house.
The block party took place Uptown, on the corner of First Street and LaSalle, in an open lot next door to Buddy Bolden’s house and in front of Greater St. Stephens’ (closed) Uptown location. DJs G-Cue and Mannie Fresh kept the crowd grooving with hits from the ’99, the 2000, and today.
PJ then performed a couple of songs with his band. During his performance of “New Orleans Girl,” he brought forward Big Sam (of Big Sam’s Funky Nation), who he introduced as Buddy Bolden’s great-grandson (who knew?!). As Sam got funky on his trombone, Ha Sizzle joined the musicians onstage and added his bounce flavor to the mix. Check it out:
It was hot as hell outside, but once the sun went down, it was all good. There were a few familiar faces out there, as well. Brandan ‘Bmike’ Odums was the featured artist of the event. He did a live sketch of Buddy Bolden in front of his Uptown home while Mannie Fresh spun Cash Money classics. Also there, Derrick Shezbie, trumpeter of Rebirth Brass Band, who didn’t perform but practiced his trumpet on the side Bolden’s house (pictured above).
I decided to invite the same friend who educated be on the legend of Buddy Bolden. Surprisingly, he was so moved by Bolden’s story and Bmike’s piece, that he offered to purchase the live artwork. Sold!
From left to right: Ashlee Nicole, friend who purchased the art, PJ Morton, and P3, PJ’s son.
Shouts out to PJ Morton who, just a few years ago, was unaware that the historic home was owned by his family. Back in 2008, PJs parents, Bishop Paul S. Morton and Pastor Debra B. Morton, purchased Buddy Bolden’s home. At the time, they were unaware of the the home’s history. PJ told NPR, “I found out when I moved home three years ago. And shamefully, as a musician who grew up in New Orleans, I didn’t even know Buddy’s story.”
PJ Morton post-performance.
According to nola.com, the church has committed $25,000 to the restoration. With help from the Preservation Resource Center, PJ plans to return the house to its natural, 19th century state and turn it into a museum that will be opened to the public. As for the other side of the double shot-gun house, PJ wants to convert it into a small recording studio and workshop to teach up-and-coming musicians the music business from achievers in the industry.
You can learn more about the legendary musician’s life by checking out Bolden, a musical drama directed by Filmmaker Daniel Pritzker, that features original music written, arranged and performed by New Orleans’ own Wynton Marsalis. Bolden is in theaters now. Below, peep the trailer and more photos from the block party.