Vol. 14 No. 1 (2023)

Buddy Bolden’s Photo: The Solution to an Eighty-Year-Old Riddle

Luca Bragalini
Conservatory of music "Giuseppe Verdi", Milan

Published 2023-05-30

How to Cite

Bragalini, L. (2023). Buddy Bolden’s Photo: The Solution to an Eighty-Year-Old Riddle. Journal of Jazz Studies, 14(1), 90–119. https://doi.org/10.14713/jjs.v14i1.227


In their 1939 monograph Jazzmen, Frederic Ramsey Jr. and Charles Edward Smith presented the photograph of a sextet from New Orleans which prominently features a cornet player identifed as Buddy Bolden. From the time of its publication, this photo has been the subject of controversy and many unanswered questions. What is the correct orientation of the photograph? What are the mysterious spherical objects that are seen on the edge of the photograph? Who is the leader of the band?

This article presents a detailed photographic analysis of this so-called first jazz photo, proposing a solution to an enigma that has lasted for eighty years. Analysis of early photographic processes, analysis of the history of musical instruments portrayed in 19th century photographs, study of the history of US clothing in 19th century photographs, and organological investigations have helped provide answers to the riddles that Buddy Bolden's photography has raised.