The Big Three
Apple Blossom Time
who says to me, 'I am in a hotel room in NYC with Charlie Ventura and [drummer] Buddy Rich and we were discussing who we were going to get on piano and the three of us decided you are the guy.' I almost fell off my chair. I quit my own trio right away... When I was with the Big Four I was also the vocalist with the band and Charlie played alto, tenor, baritone and bass sax. When I did a ballad and he backed me up on the bass sax it used to literally lift me right up off my seat. He was one of the best soloists I ever heard."
photo by Geri Reichgut
It is not surprising that Napoleon became an integral part of these working and touring bands, as he is one in a series of musically notable Napoleons. Older brother Teddy was the pianist with Gene Krupa's orchestra for 14 years and uncle Phil founded the Original Memphis Five, using his classically-trained trumpet to reshape the NYC jazz landscape of the '20s into a serious musical milieu. Marty reflects on his uncle Phil. "He was a well-rounded, classically-trained musician who played lead trumpet for the Lucky Strike Hit Parade for 10 years. He was fantastic. When I was 15 years old my father bought a trumpet from my uncle Phil and I was going to start taking lessons but during my physical my father told the doctor that I was going to start playing trumpet and the doctor said he wouldn't suggest that because of a heart murmur."
That decision led to the piano and Napoleon soon led his own trio until receiving a call to join Charlie Ventura's Big Four. Napoleon vividly remembers his being asked to join with Ventura: "I got a phone call from [bassist] Chubby Jackson
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