Meeting Marty Napoleon

On June 11th, Finding Carlton screened at the Furman Film Series, courtesy of the Great Neck Arts Center. Our audience was a mixed bag of documentary film fans, jazz folks and the plain curious ..”Jazz in India ?!!”

Our MC for the evening was the delightful Michael Steinman of Jazz Lives!

Among the jazz musicians present was the legendary  Marty Napoleon

Marty had the unique ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy, and he was aptly described as “Louis Armstrong’s exciting pianist.”  His stride piano was a significant part of post WWII New York’s club scene. In 1957 he was a key member of Henry “Red” Allen’s house band from the Metropole. The band featured tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, clarinetist Buster Bailey, pianist Marty Napoleon, guitarist Everett Barksdale, Lloyd Trotman on bass and Cozy Cole on drums.

At 91, Marty is the last surviving member of the Louis Armstrong All Stars.  He has had an extraordinary career as a working and touring musician and more importantly is one of the few musicians of his era who continued to gig well into his 80’s.  From a lineage that has included Earl Hines, and Teddy Wilson.. Marty’s stride piano was distinctive and unquestionably that of a master. Turn up your speakers, and feel the thunder…

He is a fascinating and charming man, with an energy and a zest for life that is unmistakeable. And he loves his music and is joyous in his expression of how richly blessed he is to be a musician.

Marty was very keen on watching the film and it was a distinct honor for us to have him attend.  He had heard about its subject and setting, and although requiring of wheelchair assistance  came to the screening because of its intriguing historical perspective.  He was blown away by the story and the tale of Teddy Weatherford..a fellow stride piano pioneer..and he was fascinated by this jazz story that came out of India. The musicians stories from the film resonated with that of his own life and many others, and were reflective of an era that has passed by, both for him and many others.

But what got him most excited was the film’s tribute and recognition of the role of Herb Flemming …The 50’s club circuit had brought Herb back to New York and Marty had worked with him in an era of working bands and regular gigs on Swing Street “I knew that guy well” said Marty, ” I played with him !”  A connection by way of Brooklyn to Calcutta!

This is the video sequence on Herb Flemming

Left to right: Don Varella, Stan Johnson, Marty Napoleon, Fraser MacPherson. Penthouse, Vancouver, B.C. April 4, 1952. |Source=[ Marty Napoleon 1952] |Date= 1952 |Author=Courtesy of guyman22

Both these men came from a different time.. when clubs and audiences offered livelihood and appreciation , and the combination propelled musicians to new heights and innovation. Marty’s world was the flourishing jazz scene in the United States and Europe, a working and touring musician with New York as his “gig central”.

Flemming was a nomad.  Indeed, he was one of the early internationalist’s  of the jazz,  and his travels took him from New York to France, and then to South America, Shanghai, Calcutta and Ceylon as well as the nightclubs of London!  He was truly the first great jazz ambassador.

And it was India where members of Flemming’s International Rhythm Aces found new homes, and new careers…and some stayed on to create India’s jazz generations..All told in the Film ..FINDING CARLTON – Uncovering the Story of Jazz in India

And to close..listen to this inspiring message from Marty on his 90th birthday…


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