12 December 2015


The famous Buddy Bolden's Blues is played occasionally by most traditional jazz bands. It's the one beginning with the words 'I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say You're nasty, you're dirty, take it away....'.

I'm not the first person to notice that the tune of Buddy Bolden's Blues is in fact the second theme in the composition St. Louis Tickle.

St. Louis Tickle was composed in about 1904 (when Buddy Bolden was a star on the New Orleans music scene).
The composers were named on the original sheet music as 'Barney and Seymore' (elsewhere 'Seymour'). But it is probable that these names were a pseudonym for Theron Catlan Bennett (1879 - 1937) - who became a well-known composer, music publisher (in Chicago) and music-shop owner (in Denver).

Having examined the sheet music, which is a well-structured through-composed early rag, I assumed that Bolden's Band 'lifted' the second theme from this composition, put words to it and made it their own.

However, internet sources claim the tune was composed by Bolden himself. Or that it was composed by the trombone player in his band - Willie Cornish - or at least that Cornish put the words to it. If Bolden's Band composed it, the composer of St. Louis Tickle must have lifted it from them.

But he did not live in New Orleans, so would he even have heard it in those days before mass media? And why would a composer of his obvious talent need to steal an idea for a theme? And how do we account for his distinctively 'raggy' rhythms and notes in Bars 7 and 8 and Bars 14, 15, and 16? They are more subtle and complex than the simplified version used in the song.

My theory would have been that Bolden's band lifted and adapted the tune from St. Louis TickleBut we are confidently assured by the experts that Bennett stole the tune from Bolden and sneaked the melody into his composition.

Whatever the truth, Buddy Bolden's Blues exists and you can hear many performances of it on YouTube, notably a very relaxed, soulful one by the late Pat Halcox:
And you can hear a lovely, tasteful version of St. Louis Tickle played (in 2015) by some of our favourite New Orleans-based musicians BY CLICKING HERE. This is a most delightful performance. May I urge you to watch it? Listen out for the 'Buddy Bolden' theme at 55 seconds.

Elsewhere, you can hear St. Louis Tickle performed by various artists, for example the California Feetwarmers. Note the Bolden theme, starting at 30 seconds into the film.
Finally, here's the original 1904 sheet music. I have marked in RED where the Bolden theme begins. It runs just for the repeated 16 bars. Then the composition moves into its next theme.