Randy Napoleon

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Randy Napoleon
Randy Napoleon.jpg
Randy Napoleon
Background information
Born (1978-05-30) May 30, 1978 (age 40)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Guitar
Labels Azica, Gut String, Harbinger, Detroit Music Factory
Associated acts Freddy Cole Quartet, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Michael Bublé, Benny Green, Rene Marie, Professors of Jazz, Eric Comstock
Website randynapoleon.com

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.[1][2]

He toured with Benny Green, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra led by John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, and Jeff Hamilton, and with Michael Bublé.[1][3][4]

He is Assistant Professor of Jazz Guitar at Michigan State University [5] and has done master classes at universities and music schools throughout the country. [6]

Early life[edit]

Napoleon was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 30, 1978. He is the son of Greg Napoleon, a software engineer, and Davi Napoleon, a theater historian and arts journalist, and the grandson of Jack Skurnick, a musicologist and founder of EMS Recordings, and Fay Kleinman, a painter. He has one younger brother, Brian Napoleon. His family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he was two years old.[7] He studied violin in the Ann Arbor schools before discovering the guitar.[8]

One of Napoleon's formative experiences was in a big band at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School,[9] led by trumpeter Louis Smith. Napoleon also played at the jazz clubs in Ann Arbor and learned from jam sessions at the defunct Bird of Paradise Club, where he heard many jazz musicians. Early opportunities at the Del Rio, a local bar, and at events sponsored by WEMU, a local NPR jazz radio station, helped start his career.[7] Napoleon studied at the University of Michigan School of Music.[3] He moved to New York City after graduating in 1999 and back to Michigan after his appointment to Michigan State University's College of Music in the fall of 2014.

Later life and career[edit]

Napoleon has led an organ trio which has toured the United States and United Kingdom and which did a concert for BBC radio. The trio appears on Enjoy the Moment and Randy Napoleon: Between Friends, both featuring Jared Gold (organist) and drummer Quincy Davis. 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.[3][4] The Randy Napoleon three-horn sextet appears on his 2012 album The Jukebox Crowd. A trio with Rodney Whitaker on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums appears on his album for the Detroit Music Factory, Soon.[10]

Napoleon tours internationally with singer and pianist Freddy Cole.[1][2] He is the guitarist on Cole's 2009 album The Dreamer in Me and performs on and arranged the music for Cole's album, Freddy Cole Sings for Mr. B. (2010), and Talk to Me (2011). He has appeared on TV with Cole, on a 2007 PBS special, and on the 2009 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Napoleon has also toured with Benny Green (2000–2001), Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (2003–2004), and Michael Bublé (2004–2007). He has appeared on TV in Japan with CHJO and throughout Europe, Asia and America 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.[3][4][7]

Napoleon has performed with Monty Alexander, Bill Charlap, Michael Dease, Rene Marie, and Rodney Whitaker. He has appeared with cabaret performers Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano. A reviewer of the guitarist's playing with Comstock wrote that, Napoleon plays "with a subtle finesse and articulation that partners Comstock's baritone voice and astute understanding of the song's intent".[11]

Napoleon has performed at Lincoln Center, Hollywood Bowl, The Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall, Royal Albert Hall in London, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.[1][4]

He married Alison Rogers in 2010. They have two children, Jack, named after Jack Skurnick, and Juliet.[12]

A 2011 reviewer believed that Napoleon's major guitar influences were Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, with elements of George Benson, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, and Barney Kessel also being present.[13]

Napoleon is an assistant professor at Michigan State University in the College of Music and performs with the MSU Professors of Jazz. He was on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance from 2013 to 2014, where he taught jazz guitar. He has taught master classes and clinics at Bucknell University, Temple University, Humber College, and Oakland University.[14][15] In 2014, he moved to East Lansing, Michigan.

Playing style[edit]

Randy Napoleon with Michael Bublé

The Detroit Free Press reviewer of Between Friends helped listeners understand Napoleon's style: "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".[16] Napoleon "solos finger-style, mixing complexity with swing, echoing his heros, Montgomery and Kessel", commented a 2009 reviewer.[17] Other reviewers have mentioned his clarity of tone[18] and attention to small details in his playing.[19] Critics have also commented on Napoleon's preference for restraint, as demonstrated by his not showing off by playing fast or being self-indulgent when soloing.[20][21]

George Benson commented in 2010 that Napoleon "has an all-fingers approach; he doesn't use just thumb or pick."[22]

Napoleon has also been sited for his work as a sideman. On Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, Napoleon uses various techniques, "from the solo arpeggios that support Cole's honey-toned vocal on 'Tender Is the Night' to the octave runs that follow, [...and] he trades a tasty single-note solo with special guest Houston Person's tenor sax."[13] In a review of a 2008 Cole concert, a Washington City Paper reviewer wrote that "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."[23]


As leader/co-leader and arranger[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Michael Bublé

  • Let It Snow, (2005)
  • With Love, (2006)
  • Caught in the Act, (2006)
  • A Taste of Bublé, (2008)

As sideman and arranger[edit]

With Freddy Cole

  • The Dreamer in Me – Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, (2009)
  • Sings Mr. B, (2010)
  • Talk to Me, (2011)
  • This and That, (2013)
  • Singing the Blues, (2014)
  • He Was the King, (2016)
  • My Mood is You, (2018)

As guest (selected albums)[edit]

  • Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG, (2004)
  • Josh Brown Quartet: The Feeling of Jazz, (2006)
  • Justin Ray: Justin Ray, (2007)
  • Jared Gold: Solids & Stripes, (2008)
  • Melissa Morgan: Until I Met You, (2009)
  • Paul Keller/Steve Richko Quintet: Swingin' the Praise, (2009)
  • Josh Brown: Songbook Trio, (2012)
  • Hilary Gardner: The Great City, (2014)
  • Etienne Charles: Creole Christmas, (2015)
  • Justin Ray: Evil Man Blues, (2015)
  • Michael Dease, All These Hands, (2016)


  1. ^ a b c d "Randy Napoleon Returns to Brooklyn Roots". All About Jazz. 1 November 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b Zan Stewart (2007). "Freddy's way". The New Jersey Star-Ledger. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d All About Jazz (2007). "Randy Napoleon". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d All About Jazz (2006). "Jazz Guitarist Randy Napoleon Unites Top Artists for New Release". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on December 11, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  5. ^ "Randy Napoleon". music.msu.edu. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  6. ^ {{cite web|title=Randy Napoleon|url= https://cumberlink.com/entertainment/local-scene/music-guitarist-randy-napoleon-to-perform-at-dickinson-college/article_83cee5af-f194-514e-a8be-81485de365af.html
  7. ^ a b c Christian Czerwinski (2006). "Jazz guitarist gets his own backing band". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  8. ^ Richardson, Trish (6 November 2012). "Randy Napoleon: Playing for the Jukebox Crowd". All About Jazz. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  9. ^ Roger LeLeivre (2013). "Louis Smith Gets a Well Deserved Tribute from Former Students". AnnArbor.com. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  10. ^ "Randy Napoleon". Detroit Music Factory. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  11. ^ Ahlfors, Elizabeth (April 2011) Cabaret Scenes
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b Forte, Dan (November 2011) Vintage Guitar.
  14. ^ Kopchik, Kathryn (7 December 2011). "Cabaret Jazz Series resumes with Randy Napoleon Quartet". www.bucknell.edu. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  15. ^ http://www.oakland.edu/view_news.aspx?sid=34&nid=9251&archived=1/
  16. ^ Stryker, Mark Detroit Free Press review
  17. ^ Vacher, Peter (December 2008/Jan 2009) Jazzwise
  18. ^ Cosentino, Lawrence Lansing City Pulse on Randy Napoleon
  19. ^ Nastos, Michael G. on Randy Napoleon
  20. ^ https://www.allmusic.com/album/r951246
  21. ^ Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Randy Napoleon Trio
  22. ^ Vintage Guitar Magazine, March 2010, page 121.
  23. ^ Kapila, Lois Washington City Paper review

External links[edit]