The story of legendary jazz inventor Charles “Buddy” Bolden is FINALLY coming to the big screen. Yes we emphasized finally. The film itself has been in production nearly 20 years and has become as much an urban myth as Bolden himself.
Fact is, over the years we’d interview many of the actors cast in the biopic — from Anthony Mackie, who was originally set to play Bolden, to Wendell Pierce, Omari Hardwick, Ian McShane among others. They would speak enthusiastically about the film and their involvement but no one could answer when it would actually be released. Now with a new star (Gary Carr) playing the jazz legend the film is hitting a theater near you. Here’s five reasons to go see it.
Despite the fact that not one note of recorded sound exists to document Bolden’s genre-defining work, rock musician and director Dan Pritzker knew there was still a way to tell his story. Pritzker revealed to HipHollywood that the film was a passion project and he was determined to tell it properly no matter how long it took.
“I had never made a film,” he said. “How do you really do that? It’s one thing to have an idea but it’s another to capture it on film. I had to teach myself how to do this.”
The result is a two-hour film set in the early 1900s New Orleans starring Carr, Yaya Da Costa, Erik LaRay Harvey, Reno Wilson, Karimah Westbrook, JoNell Kennedy, Robert Ri’chard, Serena Reeder with Michael Rooker and Ian McShane.
The drama delves deep into how the bandleader and cornet player would blend blues, gospel, ragtime, and with his signature improvisational riffs to birth a revolutionary music genre called jazz. Pritzker chose to tell the story in a non-linear format flashing back to pivotal moments that Bolden recalls while in a mental institution. The film also examines the addictions and afflictions that plagued the musician and would lead to his untimely death at age 30.
There are no existing recordings of Bolden, who spent more than 20 years in an asylum before his death in 1931. So, how do you write music for a musician you’ve never heard? You enlist Wynton Marsalis, one of jazz’s most decorated composers and performers. Marsalis’ proven track record made him the right man for the job and his stamp of approval gives the film a level of credibility even the staunchest jazz connoisseur can’t deny. Not surprisingly Marsalis is also executive producer of the film and has been on board since the very beginning. We won’t be surprised if his compositions nab the film an Oscar nomination in the Best Score department. And while we’re talking nominations let’s just add Grammy nom to the list too. It’s just that deserving.
Gary Carr has some immensely large shoes to fill playing the jazz legend. He brings to Bolden some of the swagger from his smooth-talking character from HBO’s “The Deuce” and handles a cornet as though he’d been playing for decades. The movie also stars Yaya DaCosta (“Chicago Med”) as Bolden’s wife and Reno Wilson (“Mike & Molly”) as Louis Armstrong whose impersonation is spot on to say the least. DaCosta’s portrayal as Bolden’s loving wife adds warmth and heart to the film. As do scenes from his childhood with his mother played by Karimah Westbrook. The films darkness and edge come thanks to Bolden’s greedy manager played by a menacing Erik LaRay Harvey who in one memorable scene pushes Bolden out of a hot-air balloon as a publicity stunt.
Besides the amazing cinematography courtesy of Neal Norton, the beautiful costumes helped create an amazing visualize tapestry. British fashion designer Colleen Morris told us she wanted to ensure that colors and fabrics conveyed the racial and sociopolitical climate of the time.
“You had different tiers of dress. You had the wealthy White men and women dressed in tux. The almost-affluent Black women very well dressed, then you had the poor Black people dressed in normal clothing.”
She added, “We had to make sure the fabrics were worn and looked they had them for many years, that was a long process,” she explained. ” And we were dressing a lot of people for some of these scenes.”
But Morris, who who has worked on shows like HBO’s The Sopranos and Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel used a lot of photography from of people in New orleans from the early 1900’s to create the clothes. “I wanted it to be of the African diaspora because it’s New Orleans . . . [which] for me was the only place in America, especially at that time, that really had a significant African/Creole look.”
If ever there was a time to shed light on mental health issues in the black community its now. Sadly like so many talented black men, Bolden suffered with mental illness and went undiagnosed despite his musical genius. Pritzker doesn’t try to beat audiences over the head with the message, but its clear that his downward spiral was not of his own doing and could have been prevented. Bolden would ultimately spent his final days in an insane asylum plagued by the reality that his art had been stolen from him.
Bolden opens in theaters on May 3. You can get your tickets at boldenmovietickets.com.
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