Hot. Humid. The smell of alcohol and piss. The street is half tourist half drunk. Come on gang. One second late, we’ll have to stand in the back.


Where are we going now professor?

Preservation Hall.


One person. Two persons. Thirteen worn out figures on the edge of total defeat by the cruel weather. Lean on the wall gang. Try to keep the street clear so people can walk by.  


One minute. Two minutes. Fifteen minutes. Some drunk guy walked by. People with reservations, please line up this way. Thank you.


Is this the back of the line? It’s actually the front. Don’t worry though. Last year we were way back and still got in. Bursts of laughter.


Concentrate. Concentrate. You have a novel in your hand and you should be reading.


Thirty minutes. Three quarters. One hour. If you are 21, use the restroom right next door. If you are under 21, walk three blocks that way.


Sweat. Thirst. Fatigue. I should get some water for the gang. Eric, would you mind holding the camera for me?


Stand. Stretch. Pour. Try hard to keep from the wall because it’s covered with filth.


Then the door opens and I went in. The moment I’ve been waiting for too long.

The legacy of Buddy Bolden.

Buddy and his Band. Andrew and his gang.

Buddy and his Band. Andrew and his gang.

Total immersion.


Eric sits on the ground. In the middle of the very first row, a mere two inches from the trumpet player. This is the first ever live jazz performance for him and he managed to get this close. “What a blessing”, he thought, while trying to observe every detail of the band member’s pre-performance preparations to enjoys his privilege of this proximity to the fullest extent. He can see the drummer carefully laying out all his different instruments on the ground. He can hear the cornet player casually chatting with the band about dinner plans. Laughing, and he smiled. Eric likes jazz, just as he likes all other kinds of music that brings him pleasure. He likes it, but is not crazy about it. He plays piano, of course, just like all other middle-class kids from China are forced to. He neither enjoys it or hates it. He just goes along with his parents’ expectations. So his level of music understanding is moderate. Not too bad to look ignorant, nor too good to impress others.


When the drummer started the first beat, everything in my world ceased to exist. My own existence started to fade away as the sound of music penetrates every single cell of my body and dissolve them. Then, gradually yet persistently, they became part of the music. The music grew into me. I’m no longer an observer. The entire music consists of music, and music along. My fingers, my shoulder, my neck, my foot. Every part of my body started dancing in sync with the music. I’m a part of it.


Sweat dripping down from the forehead of the trumpet player onto his glasses. Some escapes and continues down his chin, onto his hands, his instrument, and eventually onto the ground. Every now and then, amongst the short bursting intervals where he is not playing, he quickly draws his right hand from the trumpet and pushes his glasses up. As sweats accumulate his glasses keep sliding down more often until a threshold where he cannot bear it anymore so he takes out a piece of napkin from his chest pocket and wipes his entire face and keeps playing. He is so immersed. So immersed that the obnoxious sliding glasses post no obstructions to the flow of his music. Even Eric, sitting so close to be able to count the number of his sweat drops did not notice all those actions. 


Clapping. Yelling. Roaring from the audience. Big smile on the performers’ faces. Only when the last punch on the drum set stopped was Eric able to regain his conscious. He did not clap. He could not. The large smile stayed on his face. He couldn’t control it at all. The music took over his body, it took a good minute of roaring from the crowd for his mind to reclaim authority over the body. Then, the only sound out of his mouth was “wow”.


I’ll be frank. I don’t like Buddy Bolden as a person. I mean, what the heck? He is practically drunk all day. He marries one woman and has sex with all her sisters, not to mention the controversial nature of his wife’s profession. In everyday life, I see Buddy Bolden as a mess. If Buddy and I sit across each other on a table, we might flip it as soon as we start talking life philosophies. However, it is no one other than him who initiated the new trend that eventually reinvented conventional music. “Jazz”, according to Andrew, is a word originated from Storyville that describes, shall we put it this way, a certain brief period of happiness. It’s playful in nature, not bonded by rigid rules. It’s fragmented, has abrupt bursts and pauses. Listening closely, the note seems incoherent and chaotic. However, when you sit back and try to capture the whole spectrum of the music, all of the scattered notes assembled together into a larger harmony and gives a sense of joy incomparable to any other kinds of music. In detail, it seems all over the place. It seems that there is no rules at all. But when you close your eyes and enjoy, you began hearing beautiful melodies and realizing that after all, there are rules that make jazz jazz. Listening to it is almost like enjoying a giant mosaic painting where millions of small pieces are put together in a seemingly chaotic way which creates a picture that can only be seen when stepping all the way back and staring at the whole frame so I guess no wonder it is born in a red light district where general lawlessness covers its appearance but underground rules dominate all transactions by a guy who is mentally troubled but has extreme music talent where his mental deliriousness prevented him from performing conventionally yet his talent gave birth to a whole new genre of music. “We thought he was formless, but I think now he was tormented by order, what was outside it. He tore apart the plot”


Well, Buddy Bolden it is.