Posts Tagged ‘Buddy Bolden’

Anniversary of an Ancient Friendship

March 6, 2012

Louis Armstrong and Don Marquis, Chicago, 1959.

Fifty years ago today, March 6, 1962, it was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans. Fifty years ago last night, at the Royal Street apartment of a very dear friend, JoAnne Yoder, one of my female classmates from Tulane University Graduate School threw a party for about thirty of us on the evening that spilled into Mardi Gras Day.

That party spilled all right – all the way through the night and into the dawn’s early light of Fat Tuesday, but we were young – and just having a good time as fun was had in a less cautious or socially more  judicious era. Those of us who grew to adulthood from that romping-stomping time of alcohol excess that was the 1950s and have survived to tell about it – don’t live like that anymore. – And those of us who failed to see the error of our ways and thus to reform “just a tad” are no longer here, but make no mistake. – Few of us, if anyone,  would change anything we did on the way up that rather steep leaning curve.

That was a special night. JoAnne’s boy friend from Cleveland, Don Marquis, had just arrived in New Orleans for his first visit to the city to spend some time among the old traditional jazz artists that still walked among us in those days. And, man! Did that plan ever turn out to be an understatement of purpose?

In addition to remaining one of my closest friends to this day, Don Marquis, now closing in on age 79 this coming May, is still there in the Crescent City. After sixteen years (1962-1978) of working most of the time as a proof reader for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, just for the purpose of keeping his mind and time clear to do research as an insider to the jazz culture, Don Marquis wrote “In Search of Buddy Bolden, First Man of Jazz” for LSU Press (1978). Here’s a link on ordering and review information:

“Bolden” turned out to be the seminal research book on the legendary cornet player who preceded Louis Armstrong and all others as the now recognized first man of jazz. Because of his acceptance into the black jazz musician community, Don Marquis was able to eventually find his way to descendants of Bolden and all kinds of artifacts, including a portrait and a band picture of the group that once played Funky Butt Hall on Rampart Street at the far western boundary of the old French Quarter.

Success of the book led to world travel and many ancillary articles on the subject and further investigative efforts. Don Marquis was hired as Curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. He held that position for over twenty years prior to his retirement several years ago. Today Don still lives in the same simple one bedroom lower floor apartment home on Royal Street that he has inhabited since 1966. Don and JoAnne never married, but they remain close as ever, even though Jo has now retired and moved back to Goshen, Indiana, where Don grew up and they both went to college. They met at Goshen College in 1958.

Bill McCurdy and Don Marquis, New Orleans, 2003.

If you ask Don why he and Jo have never married, he will tell you with a straight face and a slight smile, “We don’t want to rush anything.” The truth is that both have lived happy and fulfilling lives separately and together in ways that have not distracted either from their larger purposes in this world – without sacrificing their connection as soul mates to each other – no matter what. Don Marquis’ legacy to the world has been his contribution to the documented history of Buddy Bolden. JoAnne’s contributions have been to all the veterans and others suffering from mental disabilities she has treated and assisted over the past half century as a mental health professional.

Don and Jo have missed having their own children, with each other or anyone else, but they each will leave this old world all the richer for their separate contributions to jazz history and mental health. I’m just happy to have enjoyed their friendship over all this passage of time.  I met JoAnne Yoder fifty years ago from this past September, when she and I both enrolled as students at Tulane in 1961.

I met Don Marquis fifty years ago from yesterday. This morning, it seems like yesterday.

Two final notes: An independent film maker has been working on a movie based on Don Marquis’ book for some time. Hopefully, it will be out in due time.

Secondly, I just had to mention that Don Marquis has one of the greatest senses of humor I’ve ever encountered. Years ago, when Don was proof-reading at the NO Times-Picayune, he became convinced that his editors were not really checking his corrections. So, he decided to test it. (I really think he did it out of boredom.)

Since Marquis is a big Notre Dame fan, he couldn’t keep his proof-reading hands off the starting lineup of the Fighting Irish when they came  south one late 1960s or early 1970s season to play LSU. He scratched the name of the real ND running back and wrote in the name “George Gipp” as the new printable name of the Irish RB. – According to Don Marquis, the adjusted George Gipp lineup went to press without editorial question, or maybe just as bad, without a single reader later writing in to say “you got that wrong.”

Don’t get me started on the literacy rate among New Orleans readers. Or editors.

Happy Anniversary, old Friends, wherever you may be this day.

Primary Sources in Historical Research

May 16, 2011

Buddy Bolden Image: A Primary Source

Buddy Bolden died in a Louisiana hospital for the criminally insane in 1931 at the age of 54, but by that time, the legendary first cornet in jazz history was probably still being charged with petty street crimes in New Orleans that he never committed. Back then, the New Orleans police didn’t need 100% accuracy in their identification of black criminals to find a man guilty. If a guy was black, had a name that was similar to a known criminal, and if he remotely resembled the known miscreant, the police were likely to pass on his offense to the record of  the established identity.

In addition to his musical genius and wide awake performances at the Funk Butt Hall on Rampart Street in New Orleans, Buddy Bolden had been guilty of some mental illness and alcohol addiction issues in his earlier life that had transformed him into a New Orleans street character, a man well-known enough into becoming the likely suspect in cases of public intoxication, domestic violence, or simple assault between drinking-buddy strangers.

A friend of mine, Donald M. Marquis of Goshen Indiana, moved to New Orleans in 1962 and spent the next sixteen years of his life in search of the real Buddy Bolden, the first great horn man of jazz. What he ran into for the longest while were dead ends – dead ends helped along by the posting of erroneous public information and the absence of primary source artifacts and people who actually knew Bolden. It didn’t get any easier with time. After all, Marquis began his research some 31 known years after the death of his subject. About all that still floated around in 1962 in easy-to-find plain sight were the bad police records and the secondary source testimony of children and grandchildren who had heard their elders talk of the man and his magnificent horn-playing down at the Funky Butt Hall. Those things – and a couple of grainy old photos, one of Buddy with his band and another solo shot of him holding his cornet – were all that remained available to the near-naked eye.

Then, one day deep in years later, Don Marquis found his way to a descendant of Buddy Bolden who had been holding to her own a treasure trove of accurate primary source data – data that included the first really good image of the man and further documentation of what actually had happened to him.

For those of you who may be interested, Don published his seminal findings in 1978 as “The Search for Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz” by Donald M. Marquis. A revised paperback version of the book is now available at There is also an independent film, or made-for-TV movie based largely on Marquis’ findings, coming out sometime later this year. I don’t know the title.

For our purposes, the experience of researcher-writer Donald M. Marquis serve to highlight some of the more serious issues facing the lone independent scholar. Unless you possess the time and ability to live as modestly as Marquis did for years and years, it is likely that your hard-to-wrap subject shall always elude you.

On the other hand, with the camaraderie of a small army of like-minded and dedicated people working with you, much is possible. Put that realization together with a clear understanding of primary and secondary sources – and we move far closer to getting the link established between connected facts in history,

This is the understanding and small wisdom that our SABR team takes with us into our impending study of “Houston Baseball, 1861-1961: The First One Hundred Years.” We are on our way together to the establishment of a much clearer factual picture on the history of baseball in our little area of the world.

To get a handle on primary and secondary source material distinctions, the following summary of same from Wikipedia spells them out about as well as they may be expressed. I will leave you with their words as our notes on the day:

Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.

In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. Similar definitions are used in library science, and other areas of scholarship. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one. A secondary source may also be a primary source and may depend on how it is used. “Primary” and “secondary” are relative terms, with sources judged primary or secondary according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied.