Saving music landmarks in the birthplace of jazz

This story appeared in the May issue of the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door monthly? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

I sat in my car one recent Sunday on First Street in Central City, waiting for a news crew to arrive. They were going to interview me in front of 2309 First St., once the home of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the musician credited as leading one of the earliest jazz bands. Bolden’s loud, improvisational style led to the proliferation of jazz music across the country and then the world, and he was credited by greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington as an inspiration.

But today, the house where he lived from 1887 to 1905 sits empty and dilapidated. It has been that way for years, and preservationists and jazz history aficionados have been holding their breath complaining, writing articles, trying to incite action — all while praying it didn’t burn or collapse. Happily, it seems that the salvation of this notable site is finally at hand: The Preservation Resource Center is working with Grammy-winning musician PJ Morton to renovate the Bolden home.

More on that in a minute. As I waited for the news crew to arrive, my eye wandered to the left, and zeroed in on a shining red and black double shotgun two blocks away on Jackson Avenue. I immediately recognized it as the former home of Edward “Kid” Ory, another jazz musician who was hugely important to the development of New Orleans’ original art form. The Preservation Resource Center purchased and restored the blighted Ory home in 2003, and then sold it to a couple who have kept it pristine ever since. From the driver’s seat of my car, two blocks away, I could see PRC’s jazz plaque on the front of the house — a plaque that allows all who walk past to learn about Kid Ory’s life and legacy.

According to the “Jazz Houses: Where They Lived” section of PRCNO.org, Ory (1886-1973) was a trombonist, saxophonist, composer and bandleader, who lived at 2135 Jackson Ave. from 1910 until 1916. He led both the Woodland Band in LaPlace and his own band in New Orleans, and recorded with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, Joseph “King” Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers.

The Preservation Resource Center purchased and restored the blighted Kid Ory home in 2003, and sold it to a couple who have kept it pristine ever since.

 

As I read more about Kid Ory, I learned that he used to walk over to Bolden’s house on First Street to listen to Bolden play on the front stoop. This was a neighborhood that, at the turn of the 20th century, brimmed with music, and nurtured talented young people ready to change the world with their creativity and drive.

The PRC has worked for years to preserve and reinvigorate sites of jazz significance. In addition to Kid Ory’s home, the PRC also saved the former homes of George “Kid Sheik” Colar in Holy Cross and the home of Henry “Red” Allen in Algiers. PRC also has placed nearly 400 plaques on former homes of jazz musicians across the city, bringing to light the incredible legacy of these artists and marking their homes for future generations to appreciate.

We’ve been intentional in saving these sites of significance over the past two decades. But sometimes we just get lucky, too. PRC is renovating a single shotgun house on Spruce Street that, we found out after we purchased it, was formerly the home of Olivia Charlotte Cook, a prolific piano teacher who was an important instructor for many modern-day jazz musicians, including, perhaps, Harry Connick, Jr. We’re honored to be restoring the home that holds Cook’s legacy, even if it was a happy accident that we’re doing so.

Back to Bolden: Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church owns the home, and the PRC offered for some time to advise on how to preserve and revitalize the shotgun. We were thrilled when the proposed new operator, PJ Morton and his nonprofit, Buddy’s House Foundation, approached us last year as a community partner. We’re working with PJ to realize his dream of renovating the house (and its twin shotgun next door) into a recording studio, a seminar space and a house museum dedicated to Bolden’s life and legacy and the impact of New Orleans jazz on the world. We’re advising on the financing and restoration of the historic home, as well as providing other substantial support — and we’re so proud to be doing so. It’s the continuation of PRC’s long history of saving important jazz sites that deserve to be honored.

 

Save Buddy Bolden’s House Block Party
May 2, 4-7 PM  •  2309 First Street
Celebrate the upcoming renovation of the Buddy Bolden House at a block party hosted by PJ Morton and special guests. The event is free to the public.

 

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