Calling the children home: Buddy Bolden in the Park

DickDeluxe@(tH)InkSlinger, contributing writer

smallslingerlogoThe New Orleans tradition of “free music in the park” continues today at a feverish pace.  Famous series occur each fall and spring at Louis Armstrong Park and Lafayette Square featuring the best of contemporary NOLA artists.  Smaller profile events such as the monthly Arts gathering in Palmer Park proliferate as well.

The beginnings of this rich tradition belie the social strata of the times.  In the 18th century black slaves were “allowed” to have drumming and dance events in Congo Square–a rare exception in the strident times.  In many whites-only parks military bands, barbershop quartets, church choirs and the like often held “amusements.”

Lincoln Rink, circa. 1906. Public domain photo.

Of this, perhaps the most significant development was the music of Buddy Bolden at the Lincoln Park amusement area-located at the intersection of Carrolton and Earhart where current venue Rock and Bowl is located.  Between 1902 and 1906, King Bolden often held forth among the hot air balloon rides, greased pig contests and the skating rink. His signature tune, “The Buddy Bolden Blues” contained the famous phrase “funky butt” and became a template for later improvised music up to and including jazz, blues, rap and bounce.

In those times of considerably less ambient noise, it was claimed you could hear Buddy in the French Quarter when he would blow his mighty horn “calling the children home.” These historic moments were a key part of the birth of what first came to be known as jass.  Sadly the demons associated with many musicians were present in Buddy and by 1906 his horn was stilled when his family signed him into the asylum where he died in 1931.

Happily the tradition of live music in the parks in New Orleans lives on, and while perhaps there may never be an innovator as influential and mysterious as King Bolden, a tradition that encompasses artists from John Phillip Sousa and Louis Moreau Gottschalk to Louis Armstrong and Trombone Shorty, is surely one to be celebrated and passed on to future generations.

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