RIP Marty Napoleon: Louis Armstrong’s last pianist

May 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

In memory of Marty Napoleon:

Marty played piano with Gene Krupa, Red Allen (and – much later – Harry Allen), Doc Cheatham, and (perhaps most memorably) the last editions of the Louis Armstrong All Stars, after Billy Kyle’s death. Now Marty has gone, but here he is, aged 91 in 2012, playing a medley of latter-day Louis songs (he even sings himself at one point) in a New York club that had arranged a special night for him, with fellow-veterans Bill Crow on bass and Ray Mosca at the drums (and just watch – and listen to – those ol’ guys swing!).

As my good friend Michael Steinman (of the great Jazz Lives blog) wrote at the time : “If this is 91, I want to be a rug-cutter in just this Napoleonic manner. Marty, Bill and Ray rocked the room”:

Here’s Michael’s very moving tribute, posted at Jazz Lives a couple of days ago:

Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27.  His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”

I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm.  It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.

I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed.  But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.

It is true in Marty’s case as well.  And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.

And a closing story.  One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape.  Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces.  I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others.  In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?”  And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music.  I will be music.”

And he is.  As is Marty.

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