Buddy Bolden’s Mardi Gras March -
a new contender for the Bolden Repertoire
Jazz historian Sam Charters pointed out that Buddy Bolden and his mentor,
guitarist /bandleader Charlie Galloway, introduced black vernacular dance
songs and blues into the dance hall music of New Orleans in the mid 1890’s.
Before their time parlour music of the day, popular sentimental and
comic songs dominated the repertoire of the small wind and string bands
performing in the local social dance halls.
Examples of this new vulgar music derived from folk sources can easily be found in the repertoire reported to have been performed by Bolden’s band between 1896 and 1906. One of the more popular items was Make Me a Pallet on the Floor. Jelly Roll Morton said that the song was played in New Orleans bawdy houses before he was born (say around 1890.) Another example is the famous Funky Butt, better known as Buddy Bolden’s Blues.
Later witnesses sometimes claimed Bolden composed such things but they were often derived from earlier folk sources. Morton thought Bolden composed Funky Butt but Donald Marquis found earlier versions dating back to at least the Civil War (1863/5). He concluded the song probably came up the river with the boatmen. (Marquis D. -In Search of Buddy Bolden Chapter 3)
Bunk Johnson recorded another dance song as an example of how Bolden played. He demonstrated his musical memory by whistling variations on the theme he said had no name, just a tune Bolden made up. It has come down to us known as the march-like Makin’ Run. Various writers have claimed to find the original source of Makin’ Runs in compositions like the Mexican march Zacatecas or F.C.Schmitt’s Happy Sammy of 1906.
John Bradshaw’s Discovery
I was recently advised of another tune that may have been part of the Bolden repertoire. It has come to light following revelation by Mr. J.B. Bradshaw of San Antonio Texas of the content of a discussion he had with the New Orleans trumpet player Avery Kid Howard in 1953.
Here, in part, is what he wrote:
“I was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana in 1953. It was the height of the New Orleans Jazz Revival period. I played trombone in a band called the Jordan River Six. My involvement in traditional Jazz was cemented by a special opportunity.
George Lewis's Band from New Orleans was playing the college circuit of concerts. Their promoter asked our band to furnish "home hospitality”. I was delighted to arrange for Avery "Kid" Howard the trumpet player, and Jim Robinson the trombonist, to stay a night and parts of two days with me at our Fraternity House.
After their evening concert the Lewis Band was just warmed up, so they eagerly agreed to have a jam session around our parlor piano. Lawrence Marrero, Alcide Pavegeau, Alton Purnell, I'm not sure of the drummer’s name, maybe Joe Watkins.
To stand in the middle of this band and play with them was impossible to describe adequately, but I remember feeling like I was being physically lifted up, it was a great experience which I have probably been trying to reproduce ever since with only limited success.
During the days I had the opportunity to talk to "Kid" Howard and Jim Robinson. Howard was a very intelligent, fluent speaker, Robinson mostly napped. Howard had had a career in New Orleans at a "dime a dance" place for many years. He was not of the Bolden or King Oliver, generation but many of the older musicians who played with him over the years told him stories about early jass. He was pleased that a young person was interested in jazz history, he spoke freely and easily and I wish I could remember everything he had said. His stories were second hand but fascinating...
"Kid" Howard responded to a question about what tunes Buddy Bolden played. Howard said Bolden was reputed to write some himself and he played many other popular tunes as well, then Howard picked out a tune with a little upward chromatic run pattern starting on "F" which he had heard people say was inspired by a section of "Lazy Moon", a big favorite of Buddy's, that had been morphed into an original Mardi Gras March by Buddy. The chromatic section was followed by a Ragtime lick and a second part about which Kid Howard said, "then the melody goes to the seventh that makes it very pretty".
"Kid" Howard picked Bolden's tune out on the piano, over fifty years ago and simple as it was, and impressed as I was by the idea of hearing something so rare and interesting, I would have forgotten it if I was not reminded of it again a few years ago. It was easy to remember if one came across it again. Years later when the internet had many MIDI ragtime pieces available to download and play, I came across what I believe was the same tune on the Primeline Chemical Ragtime site, titled "Darkies Mardi Gras", published in 1906 by Theodore Wenzlik , the composer who I believe must have transcribed it from Bolden New Orleans street performances in early 1900's before Bolden was institutionalized.
(Unfortunately the wonderful Primeline Chemical Ragtime site is currently not operating on the Internet. And I could find no other MIDI version of the song. It is possible to download the original sheet music (complete with a very dramatic cover) from Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Sheet Music Collection, Special Collections Department, Mississippi State University Libraries. Bunk Johnson and other sources, have said that Buddy Bolden was fond of chromatic runs, that "Lazy Moon ", published in 1903, (which incorporated chromatic runs) was one of his favorite tunes, that he played predominately in Bb...”
John Bradshaw forwarded me an mp3 recording of his memory of the march as played on the piano by Kid Howard, and sought my assistance in preparing a score for publication and announcing his discovery . It is shown below:
Fig. 2 Above: Lead sheet of Mr Bradshaw’s version of Kid Howard’s recollection interpreted from his piano performance.
I had earlier been able to obtain a copy of the Wenzlik composition and the Buddy Bolden Revival Orchestra played the first theme at a concert in February 2008 after demonstrating to the audience how the first part of the A theme might have been derived from J. Rosamond Johnson’s Lazy Moon of 1903.
Now that we have a transcription of Mr Bradshaw’s recollection of the Kid Howard Mardi Gras March it is possible to make some direct comparisons.
Howard’s version consists of two sections. Only the first theme (A) bears any melodic relationship to Wenzlik’s version. The second theme (B) is a relaxed march trio theme quite unlike the those of the Wenzlik march. As a whole it is reminiscent of earlier cakewalk marches. (e.g. Kerry Mills At a Georgia Camp Meeting, Holtzmann’s Smokey Mokes).
Mr Bradshaw asserts that this second part is a trombone part.
The Wenzlik publication is more complex and formal in structure consisting of of an Introduction; Themes 2A+2B; Vamp (with key change to Eb);16 measure Theme C (Trio); return to 2x theme A in Eb. It is also more ragtimey with typical ragtime syncopations.
The most obvious similarity between the melodies is in the first measure of part A of both compositions, and these do contain variations on a chromatic run that appears a number of times in Lazy Moon. It appears again at the 9th measure in each part A.
This has been changed in the Wenzlik publication to 2/4 time and adapted in Bb with a different rhythm as:
The Bradshaw/Howard version is slightly different: Fig. 4 Above: First 4 measures of Darkie’s Mardi Gras. (2/4 time in Bb concert)
After the four note chromatic run it can be seen that the actual
melody lines of the two versions diverge even further. The Howard tune
incorporates secondary rag like figures and dotted rhythms more typical
of early improvised jazz than written ragtime (see measures 5 and
7 and 14 to 15 above).
Certainly there seems to be a case that there is a link between these tunes and Lazy Moon as Howard suggested, but it is clear that the each composition develops the theme of part A differently.
Mr Bradshaw has suggested that the same pattern of underlying chords is compatible with both parts of the Howard version as well as parts A and B of Darkie’s Mardi Gras. He pointed out that there was no indication Kid Howard had ever heard of the Darkies Mardi Gras. He thinks it possible that it may have been a transcription of a live performance by the Bolden band or rather a composite of several performances: “Either several parades or repeat performances at a site.”
He speculates that the later sections of Darkie’s Mardi Gras might be transcriptions of variations on the first theme developed by the Bolden band during parade performances. He also conjectures that the sheet music along with the compatible Howard themes presents evidence of a sophisticated polyphonic style that includes (in part B of Darkie’s Mardi Gras) ragtime and the Spanish tinge.
He has recently published an arrangement that includes the second part of Wenzlik’s composition between the two parts of the Howard version along with a trombone part of his own devising as a Bolden Composition. I have advised him I cannot support such an approach.
There appears to be no evidence linking Wenzlik with Buddy Bolden or Kid Howard. (Wenzlik operated from New York. He composed a number of waltzes, rags and songs and was also a promoter and theatre manager. One of his songs, Dancing in the Dark, is well known.)
However that may be, it is not unusual to find similar correspondences between published works of the ragtime era and earlier or contemporary popular melodies. A number of items in the Bolden repertoire fall into this category. The best known is the appearance of the Funky Butt theme in the rag St. Louis Tickle published by the mysterious Barney and Seymore. Jelly Roll Morton said it was stolen from Bolden but as we have seen, it had an earlier provenance. Another example occurs in the case of the cakewalk (sometimes referred to as Buddy Bolden’s theme song,) If You Don’t Shake You Get No Cake, themes from which appeared in the score of Robert Hoffman’s Dixie Queen of 1906. Even Make Me a Pallet on the Floor emerged in ragtime form in Blind Boone’s Southern Rag Medley No 1 published in 1908.
It might be questioned whether the memory of a single witness is enough to identify a composition with Bolden, but there are examples of musicians demonstrating remarkable memories - like Bunk Johnson’s recollection of the Makin’ Runs theme mentioned above. Bunk demonstrated this musical memory on another occasion when he identified the first theme of Kid Ory’s Ory’s Creole Trombone with what he called The Carbarlick Acid Rag. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Ory theme was identical with that of the one-step Carbarlick Acid.
Mr Bradshaw gave other examples from Howard’s recounting of his musical memories:
“He told me that he had heard that King Oliver’s band used modified written arrangements because, in Chicago, they found themselves short of new jazz material so they modified their full spectrum dance band repertoire as jazz styles evolved. He said that he had heard that "Dippermouth Blues " and "Royal Garden Blues " were based on Tango or Maxixe arrangements, played 4/4, That "Snake Rag" was derived from a Polka. “Mabel’s Dream” was related to a Hymn called, "Love Lifted Me".”There does not seem to be any doubt that the tune smiths of the 1890’s and early 1900’s too, were prepared to incorporate any musical material that was being performed around them into compositions for publishing houses supplying the popular market. A well known example is the deliberate adaptation of the theme of the spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen by Bob Cole and J.Rosamond Johnson for the chorus of their hit coon song Under the Bamboo Tree.
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