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Reno Wilson on Portraying Louis Armstrong in ‘Bolden’

The jazz trumpeter was influential in keeping Bolden’s name alive.

Actor Reno Wilson recently sat down with EBONY to discuss his role as renowned jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong in the musical drama BoldenThe film is about the nearly unknown cornetist and bandleader Buddy Bolden, who has been credited with inventing jazz.

Wilson revealed that he prepared for the role but listening to much of Armstrong’s early music, which, according to the veteran actor, is most comparable to early hip-hop music.

“[I did] a lot of listening to him because the music is the way in with Louis, especially the young stuff,” he said. “We know the older stuff, the ‘What a Wonderful World,’ the ‘Hello, Dolly!’ For me, the way in was the connection [because] in the 1920s, Louis was hip-hop.”

Being a child of the hip-hop generation helped 50-year-old actor prepare for the role. He combined his knowledge of piano playing with his ability to beatbox to learn the trumpet.

Wilson added, “[Armstrong] was a combination of Afrika BambaataaKool Herc and JAY-Z wrapped into one. If there’s no Louis Armstrong, there’s no modern music or popular music. When hip-hop started, everyone was like, ‘It’s a fad. It’s going to go away.’ That’s what they thought about jazz when it first started.”

The legendary jazzman was one of many New Orleans natives who passed down the legend of Bolden and his innovative music, which provided context for the film.

“I’m so thankful that in 2019 we’re starting to see a more diverse collection of stories coming out, like The Green Book,” Wilson said. “Somebody like Bolden who is unrecorded . . .  one hazy picture of him exists, [and] he inspired all these legions of jazz musicians. This is just one of a plethora of stories about artists, educators, engineers and other Black people we don’t know that we need to know about.”

Bolden opens in theaters on May 3. You can get your tickets at boldenmovietickets.com.

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