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Director Dan Pritzker On His Jazz Film 'Bolden'

May 14, 2019
1 min read time

Charles “Buddy” Bolden might be the most mythical American musician you've never heard of.

Dan Pritzker wants to change that.

Bolden, a cornetist and a composer — and a seminal figure in jazz — is at the center of writer and director Pritzker's debut film, Bolden. Pritzker began researching and writing his film in 1998, and has been enamored with Bolden and his legacy for decades.

"Bolden's music changed the world," Pritzker said. "If the music has a backbeat, it came from Bolden."

With his film, Pritzker is hoping to provide context and life to the cornetist and composer’s life.

Bolden lived in New Orleans during the early 1900s and quickly became known for his cornet playing. Although many historians and jazz aficionados call him the “father of jazz,” little was left behind after Bolden’s death in 1931.

Pritzker began his own research by reading Donald Marquis’ book, “In Search of Buddy Bolden.” Afterward, he looked up Marquis in a New Orleans phone book, introduced himself and told him he wanted to make a film about Bolden. That led to Marquis taking Pritzker on a "Buddy Bolden tour" of New Orleans.

With no recordings of Bolden’s music and only one photo, Pritzker set out to make what he calls “an allegorical film about the soul of America.”

“The dearth of information about Bolden allowed me to make a story that, in my view, is American mythology,” Pritzker said.

“I had no interest in writing a biopic — making up a love story or other standard bio plot. I’ve always looked at paintings and photographs more than films.”

The project, which stars Gary Carr as Bolden, jumps back and forth between Bolden’s young life and its tragic end after he was institutionalized when he was only 30. He would spend the next two decades in Louisiana State Insane Asylum before dying at the age of 54.

At 108 minutes, Bolden has little dialogue, but contains an immense amount of jazz music composed by the legendary musician Wynton Marsalis. It helps hit home the film's main theme: the birth and continuation of American jazz.

“Louis Armstrong represents the promise and potential and fame that Bolden never achieved,” Pritzker said.

“Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis are all descendants of Bolden — so are James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Dr. Dre … All the music most of us grew up on is related to Bolden’s innovations.”

The film also focuses heavily on race in America.

“Although the Revolutionary War created the country, the Civil War forged the path that continues to reverberate as forcefully as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,” Pritzker said.

“The issue of slavery and racism is by far the direst and bleakest part of our history and it continues to be. The fact that very few people had ever heard of Bolden — after the impact this guy had — was poetic and tragic, a very American disregard for the contributions of American black people.”

Bolden is now playing in limited release.

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