MARTY NAPOLEON (1921-2015)

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.

May your happiness increase.

6 responses to “MARTY NAPOLEON (1921-2015)


    Absolutely beautiful!   

  2. So sad to hear this news

  3. Andrew J. Sammut

    Reblogged this on The Pop of Yestercentury and commented:
    I am “reblogging” a beautiful expression of appreciation for the life and music of the recently departed pianist Marty Napoleon.

    Napoleon’s long career famously included playing with none other than Louis Armstrong. As if that gig doesn’t already overshadow the actual man behind the keys, I’ll confess that upon hearing this news my thoughts soon went to other players. Marty was the nephew of Original Memphis Five trumpeter and personal fascination Phil Napoleon, part of the first generation of recorded jazz musicians. Clarinetist Buster Bailey, who played alongside Marty Napoleon in both Armstrong and Red Allen’s band, was part of the music from its roots in WC Handy’s band to the rise of the big band via Fletcher Henderson. I couldn’t help but think we are losing not just a man and a musician but a link to an increasingly archaic soundscape.

    For a far less selfish eulogy that focuses on the man rather than the sideman, hear (someone that I am proud to call my friend) Michael Steinman…

  4. What a beautifully written post to commemorate such a wonderful musician. R.I.P. Marty.

  5. A lovely tribute to a great musician and (by all accounts) outstanding human being.

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