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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Mental illness 'at the root of jazz'
Buddy Bolden
Buddy Bolden (second from left) pioneered jazz improvisation
The mental health problems of one musician could have led to the creation of jazz.

Without his schizophrenia, Charles "Buddy" Bolden - the man credited by some with starting off the jazz movement - might never have started improvisation, psychiatrists have heard.

And without this style change, music might never have evolved from ragtime into the jazz movement we know today.

Professor Dr Sean Spence, of the department of psychiatry at the University of Sheffield, was speaking to representatives at the Royal College of Psychiatrists' annual conference.

He said jazz music arose from the attempts of a cognitively impaired performer to execute novel performances.


If we had not had this improvised music then it would just have continued as ragtime

Dr Sean Spence

He said that Bolden's mental health problems meant his motor functions were impaired.

Bolden could not read music and the only way he was able to play his cornet was by improvising.

Dr Spence said: "It may be that he had to improvise because he could not play tunes in a useful way.

"He could not read music and he had to make up things as he went on.

"If we had not had this improvised music then it would just have continued as ragtime."

Dr Spence said that Bolden was diagnosed as suffering from "dementia praecox", which later became known as schizophrenia.

Ragtime to jazz

Although no recordings of his music survive, Bolden is widely considered to have started the jazz movement, which was officially recognised in 1917.

Bolden was famous for his big bold cornet sound and although his music had a solid blues form it was closer to ragtime than to jazz.

He lived and played at the beginning of the twentieth century, leading a band that was most successful between 1900 and 1906.

Bolden's playing style was extremely popular. At one point he played with eight bands at one time.

But by 1906 Bolden's mental health had started to deteriorate and the next year, after attacking his mother and mother-in-law in the street, he was committed to a mental hospital outside New Orleans.

Bolden remained in the mental hospital until his death 24 years later.

Pete King, the co-founder of the Ronnie Scott's club, said; "Bolden might have had schizophrenia, but that doesn't take away from his incredible talent."

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