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Marty and Brent: The Napoleon Duo Affair

Nicholas F. Mondello BY

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Pianist Marty Napoleon, now a spry 93, is a walking history of 20th Century jazz. He's been a Louis Armstrong All-Star and has performed worldwide with all the greats of jazz. Recently, Marty's grandson, Brent Napoleon has brought to the jazz world a series of Marty Napoleon recordings collected as Try This!. The effort is anticipated to be the first of a series of projects about this legendary performer and his musical family.

All About Jazz: Marty and Brent—and Geri, thank you very much for taking time today to speak about Try This!.

Brent Napoleon: Our pleasure, Nick.

AAJ: Please tell us about the genesis of this very unique recording. How did it come about?

BN: We've been working for years now aggregating previously unreleased recordings my Grandfather, Marty made. It's a treasure trove. I've been going through all of the many recordings he made, reviewing any available liner or other notes and also coming here to Marty's house, as well. I wanted to try to make these recordings available to jazz fans. I wanted to find the best of these recordings.

AAJ: Marty, how many unreleased recordings were there?

BN: There were 16—18 from that 1994 Gary Chester studio session that became Try This!, but, there are many, many more which were recorded at various times on a tape recorder—an anthology of Marty Napoleon's playing and composing. I had to access and research all quite extensively to access all of the original music Marty had recorded and to re-acquire rights and so forth.

AAJ: So, these here on Try This! are hand-picked selections from the Gary Chester session of 1994?

Marty Napoleon: Yes, I worked with Brent on selecting them.

BN: The Intro and Outro on Try This! were selected from the anthology recordings, the others are from that specific Gary Chester session.

AAJ: Marty, all these tunes on Try This! —these are all your original compositions?

MN: Yes.

AAJ: I must tell you, this is a wonderful recording. I'm surprised it's not been released to date.

MN: Thanks.

AAJ: How many tunes have you composed in your career?

MN: Gee, I don't know ---hundreds, maybe. I can't even recall how many.

Geri Reichgut: Marty has the unique ability to immediately compose. Once, on a flight with the All-Stars heading to Las Vegas, Joe Glaser, Pops' long-time manager, asked Marty if he had any original compositions that Pops might record. Marty wrote "Louie's Dream" for Armstrong right on the spot. Also, Marty wrote a tune that Louis Armstrong recorded—but wasn't ever released -called "Mmmm."

AAJ: How did the title Try This! come about?

BN: I asked Marty what he wanted to name this recording and he immediately said: "Try This!" And, since Marty's creative genius and instincts are usually right on, we went with that.

AAJ: Who were the musicians on the date?

MN: Ron Odrich was on clarinet, Gary Mazzaroppi on bass, and Joe Cocuzzo on drums.

AAJ: The recording quality on the album is excellent. Was the production or re-mastering difficult?

BN: No, I have a guy named Doug Maxwell who does great work. Gary Chester's original recording in New York was done at quite good quality. So, Doug had good material with which to work.

AAJ: Are there plans to release additional material?

BN: Yes. But here I wanted these selections on Try This! to be upbeat. Marty has written many love songs. As a matter of fact, one of Marty's wonderful romantic ballad originals is a beautiful tune called "If I Wrote a Million Love Songs." And, he probably has.

AAJ: Marty's musical legacy is certainly significant in the history of jazz. Are there any other projects forthcoming?

MN: Brent, tell him about the book.

BN: Yes, as you know Marty comes from a robust musical family. His Uncle Phil Napoleon was one of the earliest Dixieland Jazz leaders. He started "The Original Memphis Five Dixieland Band." His Uncle George played saxophone and his Uncle Joe was a saxophone teacher and was known for teaching Sonny Rollins. Marty's father was an artist by trade but also a successful banjo player. His brother, Teddy Napoleon was also very well known and was Gene Krupa's pianist for a long time —even Marty's sisters, Marge and Josephine were both professional singers but not as well known. You could say every one in Marty's immediate family was involved in music one way or another. I am in the process of writing about all of them in a book tentatively titled: "The Jazz Napoleons." We are also examining other ways to keep Marty's legacy vibrant —as you know, he's worked with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Chico Marx to Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton and others.

MN: Who haven't I worked with?

AAJ: What was Chico Marx like to work with?

MN: He was great and a very generous man. He entertained the audiences and also played the piano with me. I worked with him for about two years. When he would "conduct" the band, he would point to one of us and, with arms swirling and unbeknownst to the audience, would say things such as: "Did I take you to dinner last night?" or "Wanna go for coffee after the show?" When he liked what I would play, he'd say: "Keep that!!!!" I wasn't reading music at that time, as I played by ear.

GR: Marty was an autodidact. Marty later learned to read and write music. People didn't know.

AAJ: What do you think Louis Armstrong would think of this recording?

MN: I don't know. Louis didn't say much off-stage. I'd hope he'd like it.

AAJ: There's a great clip of you with Armstrong on You Tube where he and all the other All-Stars leave the stage and you solo alone. It's an incredible solo performance.

GR: That's "Sunrise, Sunset."

MN: Thanks. Louis would feature a different band member each night. This way everyone would get featured alone onstage, something you couldn't do in a small club.

AAJ: Marty, Brent and Geri, thank you all so very much this has been absolutely wonderful. Best of Luck with Try This! and all of your future efforts. What a treat this has been!

BN: You're welcome, Nick.

MN: Straight ahead, Nick.

GR: Thank you, Nick and All About Jazz.

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