The story of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the musician who “invented” Jazz, is a complex story that was a labor of love for filmmaker/writer Dan Pritzker as well. as one of the executive producer’s Wynton Marsalis. The musical pioneer, who died in 1931 in an insane asylum, never got his props until now, through this film which opened on May 3, 2019.
Through the stellar cast performances to the richness of its spine-tingling, effervescent musical roots, Bolden is a cultural feast which resonates with all music lovers. Right On! Digital went behind the scenes to explore the story of Bolden and two of its stars, Gary Carr and YaYa DaCosta.
“There was hardly any information about Bolden,” says Gary Carr who plays the the leading actor in the film. “There was no music for me to reference, not much written or photographic documentation. I had this script and the book In Search of Buddy Bolden, which illustrated what Bolden’s life could have been. However, there was much room for interpretation. It gave me a lot to play with. So, I had the world that he lived in New Orleans, information about the politics of the time and the Jim Crow south, and the way insanity was treated. It was a fascinating opportunity, and a magical kind of challenge.”
While Carr has a background in music, jazz was a different animal, especially Bolden’s groundbreaking style. Another issue: Carr’s instrument of choice was the piano, not a horn.
“I studied classical singing and piano from a very young age,” says Carr. “I remember after one particular exam saying that I didn’t want to do classical piano anymore. I said what chords I was interested in, and my teacher said, ‘Oh, those are jazz chords. Maybe you should learn jazz piano.’ I didn’t know to call it jazz specifically, but that was my genre. When it came to learning the trumpet, I loved the challenge, and that fueled me even more,” Carr says.
As Nora — Buddy Bolden’s wife, who, despite her deep love for Buddy, has to contend with his drinking, womanizing and descent into madness — Yaya DaCosta (The Nice Guys, And So It Goes, TV’s Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Ugly Betty) connected with the inner fire that Nora found during the difficult times.
“Nora has a purity to her that is also a reflection of who Buddy is at his core,” says DaCosta. “Nora doesn’t start as a strong woman. Being with him brought that to her. Nora became Buddy’s caretaker, his confidante, his refuge, the mother of his child. Ultimately, taking care of herself and her baby took precedence over the whirlwind life that he had given her.”
“Everyone wants something from Buddy. Nora wants to be in a relationship with the man she loves,” she says.
The role provided a chance to reflect on the era Bolden took place in, and the challenges that African-Americans faced in New Orleans across the nation, then and now.
“Being on set in New Orleans, in costume, with all those actors reminded me in a visceral way of what some of my ancestors might have felt,” says DaCosta. “It was beautiful and scary and powerful. It was such a privilege to be in a film like this.”