Marty Napoleon, 93, Dies; Jazz Pianist Played With Louis Armstrong
Marty Napoleon, a jazz pianist best known for his many years with Louis Armstrong, died on Monday in Glen Cove, N.Y. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by his son, Marty Jr.
Mr. Napoleon taught himself to sing and play piano as a teenager and performed as both a sideman and a leader for more than seven decades. His first major job was with the orchestra led by Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers in the early 1940s.
In 1950 he formed a quartet with the drummer Buddy Rich, the bassist Chubby Jackson and the saxophonist Charlie Ventura.
He became the pianist with Armstrong’s All Stars in 1952, and continued playing with the group off and on until Armstrong’s death in 1971. He appeared with Armstrong on television shows hosted by Dean Martin, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, and in the 1954 movie “The Glenn Miller Story,” which starred James Stewart and June Allyson.
“Mr. Napoleon plays in an appealing melodic style and with a persuasive momentum that keeps the room’s dance floor well filled when his trio is on,” John S. Wilson wrote in reviewing a performance by one of Mr. Napoleon’s bands in The New York Times in 1973. “He holds to a relatively conservative repertory of familiar songs, but he imbues them with a fresh, joyously propulsive feeling, much as the big bands of the swing era treated popular songs.”
Mr. Napoleon also worked with luminaries like Gene Krupa, Coleman Hawkins and Nat King Cole. He played at major festivals in San Remo, Italy, and Newport, R.I., and in New York venues like Michael’s Pub and Windows on the World.
He was born to Matteo and Giovanina Napoli, immigrants from Sicily, in Brooklyn on July 2, 1921. The family was musical — his uncle Phil Napoleon was a trumpet player who led a group called the Original Memphis Five, and three uncles were prominent studio and big-band musicians in the 1920s and ’30s. As a teenager he formed a quartet with his brother, a cousin and a friend, and his playing soon drew the attention of Chico Marx.
A heart murmur kept Mr. Napoleon out of military service, but he performed for the troops with different bands.
He married Marie Giordano in the early 1940s. She died in 2008. In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Jeanine Goldman; four grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
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