May 30, 1978 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Origin||Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|Occupation(s)||Guitarist, arranger, composer, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University|
|Associated acts||Randy Napoleon Sextet, Randy Napoleon Trio, Freddy Cole Quartet, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Michael Bublé, Benny Green Trio|
Randy Napoleon (born 30 May 1978) is an American jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger who is a member of The Freddy Cole Quartet and the leader of a sextet, a quartet and a trio. He is Assistant Professor of Jazz Guitar at Michigan State University in the College of Music.  He toured with Benny Green, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO), led by John Clayton, Jeff Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, and with Michael Bublé.
Napoleon was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 30, 1978. He is the son of Greg and Davi Napoleon and the grandson of Jack Skurnick and Fay Kleinman. He has one younger brother, Brian Napoleon. His family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, when Napoleon was young. He studied violin in the Ann Arbor schools before discovering the guitar. He married Alison Rogers Napoleon in 2010 and in 2013, they had a son, Jack, after Jack Skurnick. One of Napoleon's formative experiences was in a big band at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, . led by the trumpeter Louis Smith. He also played at the jazz clubs in Ann Arbor and learned from jam sessions at the now defunct Bird of Paradise Club, where he also heard master jazz artists play. Early opportunities at the Del Rio, a local bar, and at events sponsored by WEMU, a local NPR jazz radio station, helped launch his career. Napoleon went on to study at the University of Michigan School of Music. He moved to New York City after graduating in 1999.
Napoleon is jazz guitarist, composer, arranger, and teacher. He performs as sideman and leader. He also arranges and produces for his own recordings and for other artists. He has led an organ trio that has toured the United States and United Kingdom, where they did a concert for BBC radio. They have toured throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, He has also led a quartet and sextet. He is an assistant professor at the Michigan State University in the College of Music and performs with the MSU Professors of Jazz. 
Napoleon also tours internationally with singer/pianist Freddy Cole. He is the guitarist on Cole's 2009 release, The Dreamer in Me, and performs on and arranged the music for Cole's Grammy-nominated 2010 release, Freddy Cole Sings for Mr. B. and Cole's 2011 release, Talk to Me. Napoleon has appeared on TV with Cole, on a 2007 PBS special and on the 2009 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.
Napoleon was on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance from 2013-2014, where he taught jazz guitar. He has also taught master classes and clinics at colleges that include Bucknell University, Temple University, Humber College, and Oakland University.
The Randy Napoleon Trio appears on two CDs, Enjoy the Moment and Randy Napoleon: Between Friends, both featuring organist Jared Gold and drummer Quincy Davis. The group has been compared to Wes Montgomery's organ trio. Between Friends, a 2006 release from Azica Records, features the trio on half the tracks and a quartet on the other, with Davis, bassist David Wong, and Benny Green on piano. The Randy Napoleon three-horn sextet appears on his 2012 release The Jukebox Crowd.
Napoleon has also toured with Benny Green(2000–2001), Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, CHJO (2003–2004) and Michael Bublé (2004–2007). He has appeared on TV in Japan with CHJO and throughout Europe and the United States with Bublé.
His U.S. TV appearances with Bublé include David Letterman, Jay Leno, The View, The Today Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Regis and Kelly, Dancing with the Stars, the Radio Music Awards, Entertainment Tonight, and a PBS special, Caught in the Act, which is available on DVD/CD from Reprise Records. He has also appeared on TV with Sachal Vasandani and others.
Napoleon has also performed with jazz artists including The Bill Charlap Trio and Rodney Whitaker. He has appeared with cabaret artists including Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, and has worked with musicians from his own generation, such as Josh Brown (trombone), Gerald Clayton (piano), Justin Ray (trumpet), Julius Tolentino (saxophone), and vocalists Melissa Morgan and Sachal Vasandani.
Napoleon has played in venues across the United States, including Lincoln Center, The Hollywood Bowl, The Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall and throughout the world, such as Royal Albert Hall in London, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
- Randy Napoleon: The Jukebox Crowd
- Randy Napoleon: Between Friends
- Randy Napoleon and Jared Gold: Enjoy the Moment
- Eric Comstock and Randy Napoleon: Bitter/Sweet
As a member of other bands:
- This and That: Freddy Cole (performer, arranger)
- Talk to Me: Freddy Cole (arranger, performer)
- Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (arranger, performer; recording nominated for Grammy 2010)
- Freddy Cole The Dreamer in Me: Live at Dizzy's Club (performer)
- Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (performer)
- Michael Bublé: Caught in The Act (performer; recording nominated for Grammy 2007)
- Michael Bublé: With Love (performer)
- Michael Bublé: Let It Snow (performer)
- Michael Bublé: A Taste of Bublé (performer)
- The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG (performer)
- Jared Gold: Solids & Stripes (performer)
- Melissa Morgan: Until I Met You (performer)
- Josh Brown: Songbook Trio (performer, co-arranger,composer of Blues for Big Three)
- The Josh Brown Quartet: The Feeling of Jazz (performer, composer of Street Steam)
- Justin Ray (performer, composer of Psychic Ping Pong)
- Hilary Gardner: The Great City (performer, arranger)
- Paul Keller/Steve Richko: Swingin' the Praise (performer)
- Your Soul: Ben Jansson Trio with Special Guest, Randy Napoleon (performer, arr. of All the Way)
- Live at the Firefly: Ben Jansson Sweetie Pie (performer, arranger of Young at Heart)
- Liz Wagener: The One You Choose (performer, arranger)
- Laura Sagolla: My First Rodeo (arranger, performer)
- Charles Darden: Coming Back to Me (arranger, performer)
- Adam Rongo: Tell Your Story (performer, three tracks only)
- Michael Camacho: Just for You (performer)
- Don't Go to Strangers (performer)
- Manhattan Swing (performer)
- Jazz Meets Hymns (performer)
- An Interpretation of a Universal Language (performer, one track only)
Responses & Reviews
||This section is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (November 2011)|
- in the November 2012 issue of Hot House Jazz Magazine, George Kanzler wrote "...Napoleon is better known as a super-sideman than a leader...his latest CD, The Jukebox Crowd, showcases his crisp, suave playing, which mixes plectrum and finger-picking styles in a sextet with three horns and Hammond B3 organ..."
- In a review of The Jukebox Crowd in the November 2012 issue of New York City Jazz Record,Ken Dryden wrote "Many young up-and-coming jazz artists focus on showcasing themselves by playing blazing uptempo solos. Yet guitarist Randy Napoleon, who has toured with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Freddy Cole, is quite comfortable emphasizing melody and space in his playing."
- On April 22, 2012, in Philadelphia Weekly, David R. Adler wrote "From Randy Napoleon’s boyish appearance one might think he’s just starting out. In fact, he’s one of the more accomplished and well-rounded jazz guitarists of our day. Most know him as a supremely tasteful accompanist to singers such as Michael Bublé, Eric Comstock and Freddy Cole (Nat’s younger brother). But his penchant for bluesy soul-jazz comes through on his latest, The Jukebox Crowd, a sextet affair with Hammond organ and plenty o’ horns. He can also cut it in lean and modern post-bop settings, judging from organist Jared Gold’s 2008 smoker Solids & Stripes."
- On April 16, 2012, Tim Wilkins wrote in the New Jersey Star-Ledger "Guitarist Randy Napoleon’s lyrical solo lines strike a sweet spot between virtuosity and emotion."
- In the November 2011 issue of Vintage Guitar magazine, in a review of Freddy Cole's album, 'Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B,' Dan Forte wrote: "Napoleon arranged 10 of the album’s 12 songs – handling the doubly daunting task of doing justice to Cole’s voice (very similar to his legendary brother, the late Nat “King” Cole) as well as songs associated with Cole’s friend and mentor, Billy Eckstein. The Brooklyn native approaches these chores with the same sensitivity and insight he brings to his guitar playing – from the solo arpeggios that support Cole’s honey-toned vocal on “Tender Is The Night” to the octave runs that follow, as the ensemble joins in to establish a relaxed, swinging groove, before he trades a tasty single-note solo with special guest Houston Person’s tenor sax. For “Cottage For Sale,” the sad tale of a dream cottage now abandoned, Cole asked for a George Shearing feel, and Napoleon cleverly references the optimistic “Folks Who Live On the Hill” in the intro....Throughout, he coaxes a warm but round tone from his Stadler archtop (a 17” Free Verse with floating humbucker) and reveals his biggest influences, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Others “who swing and have a deep blues feeling” – including Benson, Barney Kessel, Grant Green, and Charlie Christian – are evident on “Jelly, Jelly.” A fitting tribute to them and, of course, to Mr. B."
- From an interview with George Benson in Vintage Guitar Magazine, March 2010:
"VG: What younger jazz guitarists stand out to you?
George Benson: There are quite a few. Norman Brown, of course, and I do like Mark Whitfield, and the guy who played with Diana Krall, Russell Malone. Very strange guitar player, but I like his tenacity - how he jumps on things. He doesn't leave any room for ambiguity. I like his style and his clarity, and his ideas are good too.
I like the guitar player who's playing with Freddy Cole [Randy Napoleon]. He has an all-fingers approach; he doesn't use just thumb or pick. He's spectacular."
- Randy Napoleon performed with Warner Brothers recording artist Michael Bublé for three years, during which Napoleon put out the album Between Friends Upon hearing it, Bublé commented for the liner notes:
" Randy Napoleon is the most exciting guitarist of our generation."
- In a review of the CD, Freddy Cole: Talk to Me: "John DiMartino's supportive piano and Randy Napoleon's golden-toned guitar lines carry Cole or frame him in all the right places." Kirk Silshee, Down Beat Magazine, November 2011, pshr 59.
- In a review of the Freddy Cole Quartet, September 18, 2011: "“With hand-in-glove support from his working trio of guitarist Randy Napoleon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd, Cole cast spells from start to finish….Randy Napoleon, Cole’s principal foil, is an amazing young guitarist. His dovetailings with Cole and high-flying solos earned repeated rounds of applause.” Chuck Berg, Topeka Capital-Journal
- In a review of the Freddy Cole Quartet, August 2, 2008: "Cole occasionally sang without accompanying himself, relying instead on guitarist Randy Napoleon's resourcefulness....Napoleon, a young, swing-centric guitarist...was accorded plenty of solo space, revealing an exceptionally nimble finger-style technique." Mike Joyce, The Washington Post
- In a review of the Freddy Cole Quartet, August 12, 2009,"Napoleon’s unhurried, light touches lace perfectly with Cole’s, whether he’s answering the pianist’s melodies in short phrases or taking the stage with longer improvisations." Lois Kapila, The Washington City Paper
- In a review of The Freddy Cole Quartet at the Umbria Jazz Festival: "Napoleon's light touch got caught up in a whirl of lightning-fast technique. His solos then became the ones to watch for: golden lyricism on “If I Love Again”; sweet, happy variations on “Getting Some Fun Out of Life”; plainspoken, chromatic nostalgia on “Funny How I've Stopped Loving You” (on which his bandmates also took some bows, Boyd with beautiful brushwork and Bailey with imaginative eighth-note accents). He outdid himself during the set's encore with a concise but brilliant submission on “I Was Wrong.” Michael J. West, All About Jazz.
- In a review of Between Friends: "Napoleon plays with a gentle, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation, and his improvisations are true narratives, a collection of shapely melodies rather than a series of prepackaged licks." Mark Stryker, The Detroit Free Press
- In a review of the Dec 15, 2007 performance of the Freddy Cole Quartet in South Orange NJ: "In the instrumental interludes, the Freddy Cole quartet plays swinging mainstream jazz that is always accessible and interesting...with some superb guitar work from Napoleon, who was simply sensational throughout the evening...Napoleon has been with the group only a few months, but has already become an important part of what they provide musically..." Joe Lang, Jazz Improv NY, Jan. 2008 issue.
- In a review of the Jan 22, 2009 performance of the Freddy Cole Quartet at St. Cecilia's in Grand Rapids, MI: "His quartet includes three fabulous players...who play with no unnecessary gestures, no wasted notes...Guitarist Randy Napoleon, a finger-style player with a soft, smooth touch, meshed perfectly with Cole's piano, whether trading fills or sharing the melody in octaves. When Cole stepped away from the keyboard, Napoleon filled in all the space without missing a trick, delivering thick, chord-rich solos on tunes such as 'I Will Wait For You.'" Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk, The Grand Rapids Press.
- In a preview of a 2007 appearance of the Randy Napoleon Trio in Pittsburgh, a reviewer commented on Napoleon's recent album: "His melodic lines are clean and uncomplicated. He shows a sensitivity for song rather than a desire to show off." Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- In a review of Bitter/Sweet: "The splendid young guitarist, Randy Napoleon, matches Comstock's moods, now pensive, now joyful. He gets to do some celebrating of his own on the Rodgers and Hart track, while showing a delicacy of feeling on such tracks as "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square" Bart Greenberg, NiteLife Exchange.com
- In a review of Bitter/Sweet:"Randy Napoleon has his own trio and is part of the Freddy Cole Quartet, playing the guitar with a subtle finesse and articulation that partners Comstock’s baritone voice and astute understanding of the song’s intent. The two bring additional layers to the arrangements and a singular intimacy to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed,” Napoleon enhancing the Rodgers melody with spare elegance. Vocal and instrument together evoke the dark heartache of Gordon Jenkins’s “Goodbye” and are persuasive with the compelling phrasing in “If I Had You” (Shapiro/Campbell/Connelly), once a hit for the King Cole Trio. Lane and Lerner’s melodic “Too Late Now” hints of a sweet desperation." Elizabeth Ahlfors, Cabaret Scenes, April 2011
- Will Friedwald, author/Wall Street Journal jazz critic, from liner notes for Bitter/Sweet: "Sometimes you can add something by taking something away (sounds very zen, I know) ... Eric without the piano is an even more intimate and personal experience than Eric at the keyboard. It makes his considerable gift sound even more rarified and specialized, and empowers him to pinpoint microscopic shades of emotion with even greater accuracy. Randy Napoleon's guitar is absolutely ace ... Sometimes less is more. The combination of Comstock and Napoleon is so perfect, I have to ask: Who could settle for anything less?"
- Between Friends received attention in several countries: "Napoleon ha un suono generoso, brillante e corposo allo stesso temp, che sa di Nebbiolo d'annata." Matteo Brancaleoni, Jazz Magazine (Italian publication).
- "Napoleon at times searches, not for the big fat notes, but the tiniest, trim, lean and bittersweet ones. His heaviness lies not in volume or weight, but in depth of spirit." Michael G. Nastos, WEMU radio host
- "Napoleon must be considered in the first rank of modern jazz guitarists." Piotr Michalowski, Southeast Michigan Jazz Association
- "Napoleon consistently shows that he is in full command of his instrument without resorting to overindulgent solos like many young players...Napoleon's tasty, spacious interpretation of the magical ballad "A Time For Love" is yet another highlight...The subtle opener, "Face the Truth," is a conversational piece that might appeal to a singer if it only had a lyric." Ken Dryden, Allmusic
- "Each note hangs, suspended with raindrop clarity from its bough of melody, on up-tempo tunes as well as ballads." Lawrence Cosentino, Lansing Michigan's City Pulse.
- On tour with Freddy Cole in Madrid: "El excelente y joven guitarrista Randy Napoleon, tocando sin plectro, fue el responsable de la mayoría de los solos, todos inteligentes, fluidos y variados." Jo Setters, Distritojazz.es 
- "His guitar lines are soulful and smart." Marc S. Taras, Current Magazine
- "Randy Napoleon an der Gitarre ergibt sich ein voller Klang, der sich vom ersten Lied bis zur letzten der zahlreichen Zugaben, einem Lied von Louis Armstrong, ebenmäßig durchzieht." LitGes (Review of Freddy Cole Quartet)
- "In seiner Band tummeln sich in Gestalt von Randy Napoleon ein geschmeidiger Gitarrist, mit Elias Bailey ein stoisch walkender Bassist und mit Curtis Boyd ein swingender Drummer" (In review of Freddy Cole Quartet at Birdland in Neuberg, Germany )Donaukurier
- "Freedy tryskał energią i jak na prawie 80-cio letniego człowieka pokazał naprawdę niezłą formę. Bardzo eksponowanym muzykiem był gitarzysta, Randy Napoleon, który grał bardzo poprawne harmonijne, ciekawe melodyjnie solówki. Praktycznie w każdym kawałku. Pod koniec koncertu dawało się odczuć lekkie znużenie przewidywalnością jego kolejnych fraz" (review of Freddy Cole Quartet in Poland)
- "Vagy én nem oldódtam fel rendesen az elején (valószínűbb), vagy nekik kellett egy kis idő, amíg igazán megtalálták egymást (nem valószínű), mert mintha az első számban a Cole által sokat éltetett Randy Napoleon gitárjátékával nem találta volna az összhangot a zongorával, vagy legalábbis nem volt teljesen világos a szerepük. Később teljesen visszahúzódott a törtető Napoleon, és csak akkor játszotta magát az előtérbe, mikor Cole otthagyta hangszerét, és sinatrás pózban énekelt, de akkor viszont zenekarvezetői szerepben gitározott."
- "Guitarist Napoleon, fresh-faced and youthful, solos finger-style, mixing complexity with swing, echoing his heros, Montgomery and Kessel."—Peter Vacher, Jazzwise magazine, December 2008/Jan 2009 issue. (In review of Freddy Cole Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, England)
- All About Jazz (2007). "Randy Napoleon Returns to Brooklyn Roots". All About Jazz. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
- Zan Stewart (2007). "Freddy's way". The New Jersey Star-Ledger. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
- All About Jazz (2007). "Randy Napoleon". All About Jazz. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
- All About Jazz (2006). "Jazz Guitarist Randy Napoleon Unites Top Artists for New Release". All About Jazz. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
- Christian Czerwinski (2006). "Jazz guitarist gets his own backing band". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
- Roger LeLeivre (2010). "Jazz guitarist Randy Napoleon has plenty to celebrate as he rings in 2011 with Kerrytown shows". AnnArbor.com. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
- Roger LeLeivre (2013). "Louis Smith Gets a Well Deserved Tribute from Former Students". AnnArbor.com. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
- Reprinted from Philadelphia Weekly on Adler's blog, Leterland
- New Jersey Star-Ledger review
- Vintage Guitar Magazine, March 2010, page 121.
- [Quotation is found on the album cover]
- [Chuck Berg, Topeka Capital-Journal ]
- Washington Post review
- Washington City Paper review
- All About Jazz, scroll down to Freddy Cole review.
- Detroit Free Press review
- Jazz Improv NY Review Scroll to page 6
- Grand Rapids Press review of Freddy Cole Quartet
- Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Randy Napoleon Trio
- NiteLife Exchange.com
- Michael G. Nastos on Randy Napoleon
- South East Michigan Jazz Association on Randy Napoleon: Between Friends
- All Music on Randy Napoleon: Between Friends
- Lansing City Pulse on Randy Napoleon
- Márk Linczényi (7 November 2008). "Én nem a testvérem vagyok! Freddy Cole a Millenárison" ["I am not my brother'" Freddy Cole at the Millennium Theatre] (in Hungarian). Retrieved 16 December 2009.
- Official website
- Web page at Michigan State University website
- Playing for the Jukebox Crowd an interview with Randy Napoleon by Trish Richardson in All About Jazz.
- Interview with Napoleon in Annarbor.com
- Interview with Napoleon in Lansing City Pulse
- Discussion of improvisation in Psychology Today, featuring comments by Napoleon.
- Interview with Randy Napoleon in Noir Dame.
- Freddy Cole biography.
- PBS page on Caught in the Act, features photo of Randy Napoleon.
- All About Jazz profile.
- Allmusic Profile
- Review in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Review in Allmusic
- Review in Southeast Michigan Jazz Association newsletter