Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If a picture's worth a thousand words, then here's 70,000 of them...

Excuse me for my absence - life is hectic...

Owing to my love, no lust, of jazz, when I get to experience something about "America's Classical Music" between book covers I reach a state of nirvana.

Recently Toronto artist/painter/printmaker Stefan Berg's wordless novel, Let That Bad Air Out: Buddy Bolden's Last Parade was released from Porcupine's Quill Books. It's a stunning depiction of what Berg imagines Buddy Bolden's last performance was like. Berg created a narrative through 70 individual images.

A little context: Buddy Bolden is a mythical figure in the history of jazz who is considered to be the first great jazz cornet soloist. There are no recordings of him, though some claim there was an Edison cylinder made of Bolden and his band but it has never been found. From the late 1890's to 1907 Buddy Bolden was the most prominent cornet player in New Orleans but began to slowly go insane due to alcohol and mental problems. The parade Stefan Berg has recreated in his book is said to be the last time Bolden ever brought a cornet to his lips. He spent the last 24 years of his life in an insane asylum. But the stories of his life have survived him and maintained his place in the history of jazz.

I interviewed Stefan Berg by email to find out what drew him to this iconic story and he told me that: "Michael Ondaatje's novel, Coming Through Slaughter stimulated my interest in the legend of Buddy Bolden. I wanted to create a silent novel about a particular sound and express the energy of a New Orleans parade through still images."

Here are a few images from the book:

This is a stunning visual experience that transcends the graphic novel genre.

I'd suggest you listen to some early Bunk Johnson or Freddie Keppard while experiencing this book to get a feel for the sounds of New Orleans in the French Quarter in the early 1900's.

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