By Bobby Reed | Published May 2019
For casual fans, a soundtrack album often is merely a keepsake, a memento associated with a film they love, rather than a musical compilation they’ll revisit frequently. In the particular case of Bolden, there is a slight difference in mood between the film and the soundtrack. Director Dan Pritzker’s dark, well-crafted art-house film about New Orleans cornetist and bandleader Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877–1931) is a nonlinear tale that depicts racism, brutality, drug addiction, mental illness, misogyny, prostitution and other forms of exploitation—as well as providing an imagined glimpse of the specific cultural milieu in which jazz originated.
The soundtrack, crafted by Wynton Marsalis, is a wildly entertaining excursion into the early styles of the genre, expertly delivered by the trumpeter and members of his acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with a talented cast of guests, including singer Catherine Russell (who has a cameo in the film). Separated from the harrowing cinematic images of the R-rated movie, the musical program has more of a buoyant quality, as red-hot tunes are mixed with poignant balladry and some PG-13 raunchiness—such as the lyrics to Marsalis’ arrangement of the traditional tune “All The Whores Go Crazy (About The Way I Ride).” Every track in the 26-song program is exquisitely executed, whether it’s a Marsalis composition designed to evoke what Bolden’s band might have sounded like, or a song by Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust”), Irving Berlin (“Russian Lullaby”), Fats Waller (“Black And Blue”), Edward “Kid” Ory (“Muskrat Ramble”) or Jelly Roll Morton (“Funky Butt [I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say]”). If the notion of hearing Marsalis’ tentet cut loose on Louis Armstrong’s arrangement of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Tiger Rag” is something that intrigues you, then this soundtrack definitely belongs in your collection.
In the film, Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) portrays Bolden, and Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly) has the role of Armstrong. Marsalis provides the cornet and trumpet parts for both characters (JLCO trumpeter Marcus Printup also plays on the soundtrack), but Wilson does his own singing, imitating Satchmo’s gravelly vocal style on several tunes, including the comedic “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”
Other artists involved in the project are JLCO pianist Dan Nimmer, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Delfeayo Marsalis (who produced the album but doesn’t play on it) and clarinetist Dr. Michael White, who plays on the soundtrack and wrote an essay for the liner notes. White opines on how the past is connected to the present in the Crescent City: “[Wynton Marsalis’] deep knowledge of the music of his native New Orleans is reflected in how his trumpet playing expresses that proud, joyous, and defiant singing spirit that has descended from Buddy Bolden to Bunk Johnson and King Oliver to Louis Armstrong and all of the great players in this line, including Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and Wynton himself.”