Bringing to life the fabulous, colorful panorama of New Orleans in the first flush of the jazz era, this book tells the story of Buddy Bolden, the first of the great trumpet players - some say the originator of jazz - who was, in any case, the genius, the guiding spirit, and the king of that time and place.
In this fictionalized meditation, Bolden remains throughout a tantalizingly ungraspable phantom, the central mysteries of his life, his art, and his madness remaining felt but never quite pinned down. Ondaatje's prose is at times startlingly lyrical, and as he chases Bolden through documents and scenes, the novel partakes of the very best sort of modern detective novel.
Ondaatje’s first novel is a journey through the streets, bars and music halls of New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth-century, focusing on the life and artistic evolution of the innovative trumpeter, Buddy Bolden. Bolden had enormous influence on the birth of jazz, and figures prominently in compositions by Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, among many others. He died before the advent of recorded music, which makes Ondaatje’s book powerful and poignant as a portrait of Bolden, the music of his time, and the pace of change in early New Orleans.