A 1976 novel by Michael Ondaatje
about the legendary and innovative jazz cornet
player Buddy Bolden
, in New Orleans around the turn of the century. Ondaatje takes the very few biographical details known about Bolden (of whom there is no recording and only one poor photograph), and puts a fragmentary, sometimes poetic, narrative around them. It is occasionally hard to tell whose voice or view the words are.
Bolden worked at Joseph's Shaving Parlor, and drank enough for regular customers to prefer the morning shift. He went mad at the age of 31, in 1907, while playing in a jazz parade. He lived with Nora Bass, a former prostitute, and they had a child. He would disappear for extended periods. The disconnected and flickering pace of the narrative therefore reflects incipient madness, the rudimentary recording of the period, and his absences both from his work and playing and from the later record. He is known only by his reputation and influence: Ondaatje gives him flesh and blood and thoughts and desires.
The title refers overtly to a town between the mental asylum and New Orleans, passed through when Bolden died incarcerated in 1931 and his body was taken home.