UPDATED September 7, 2021.
|Buddy Bolden band c. 1903. That’s Jefferson Mumford on guitar.|
But, as mentioned, very few African Americans could afford such instruments. Two exceptions could be found on the streets of New Orleans in the 1880s. Both guitarists were working barbers, the fall-back career of so many musicians in those early days. The ground-breaking guitar pair was Charlie Galloway, born in New Orleans around 1863,and Jefferson Mumford, born in the Crescent City in 1870. What style of music they played around 1885 is debatable but, by the 1890s, both were known to be working in New Orleans playing ragtime, blues’ direct forerunner.
Charlie Galloway, the elder of of the pair, was leading an African-American string band around 1895 when he decided to spice things up by adding a line of brass – an innovative step that inadvertently helped give birth to jazz. One of his new black recruits was a 19-year fellow Charlie, and yet another barber, a cornet player called Charlie Bolden. Young ‘Kid’ Bolden, nicknamed Buddy, proved so innovative and inspirational, he soon took over leadership of Galloway’s band. After changing its name to the Buddy Bolden band, it became the hottest outfit in New Orleans. Not that guitarist Charlie Galloway was forced out. He still had an important part to play. With guitar amplifiers not invented until the 1930s, it was then impossible for acoustic guitars to be heard over the rest of the band. What acoustic guitars could do, however, was lay down a solid rhythmic foundation over which the horns could improvise. And so, the chord-strumming rhythm guitarist was born, a feature still with us today. Explained, author Harry O. Brun in his 1960 book, The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
“It was he (the guitarist) who would shout out the chord changes on unfamiliar melodies or on modulations to a different key. It was through this frequent ‘calling out’ of chords by the guitarist that many New Orleans musicians of that day, otherwise totally ignorant of written music, came to recognize their chords by letter and number; and though they could not read music, they always knew the key in which they were playing.”
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