Guitarist Randy Napoleon came to the attention of the jazz world a decade ago when he was a student at the University of Michigan, soloing with Ellen Rowe's jazz band at a festival in Indiana. Among those who evaluated the young musicians were pianist Benny Green and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
On the last day of Napoleon's last class at Michigan, the phone rang. Hamilton was on the other end, inviting him to do a series of performances at the Hollywood Bowl with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO). Shortly thereafter, Napoleon spent a year on the road, touring nationally and internationally with Green, then did another tour with CHJO and recorded with them on the album Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Live at MCG Jazz.
Currently, the guitarist tours with the legendary singer/pianist, Freddy Cole and appears on Cole's 2009 album, Live at Dizzy's Club: The Dreamer in Me.
Napoleon has appeared on television in Tokyo with CHJO, in several European countries and on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Marathon with Cole, and throughout the world with crooner Michael Bubl, with whom he toured for three years. These appearances include Letterman, Leno, The View, Today, Regis and Kelly, Ellen DeGeneres, a PBS special, The Radio Music Awards, and Dancing with the Stars.
He has played with other major jazz bands, including the Bill Charlap Trio, and with top cabaret performers Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano. He also works with some of the finest musicians of his own generation, among them Melissa Morgan, Josh Brown, Jared Gold, Gerald Clayton, and Sachal Vasandani.
Today, Napoleon is one of the most sought after guitarists in New York, where he is known as a forward-thinking musician with a passion for the jazz guitar tradition. His CDs, Enjoy the Moment and Between Friends, drew praise from all quarters. Napoleon also writes and arranges for his own bands and for other performers on recordings awaiting release.
In addition to backing the best, he leads his own bands, including a sextet that will perform at Cliff Bell's in Detroit on New Years Eve from 9:450 pm and into 2010. The sextet will perform Napoleon's arrangements of jazz standards and popular tunes as well as some Napoleon originals. The evening includes a four-course dinner and a champagne toast at midnight.
Napoleon brings fellow New York-based Michigan native Quincy Davis, a drummer who launched his career at the same student festival. Davis, who grew up in Grand Rapids, studied with Billy Hart at Western Michigan University. He has toured with Tom Harrell, Benny Green, and others and has played with numerous jazz greats including Wynton Marsalis, Frank Wess, Russell Malone, Cyrus Chestnut, Roy Hargrove, and Nicholas Payton. Davis is a member of Randy Napoleon's organ trio and the Randy Napoleon Sextet. He appears on Napoleon's first two albums.
Also on this date are some of Michigan's top players:
Trombonist Vincent Chandler has performed with the Lincoln Center Big Band, Jimmy Heath, John Faddis, Joe Henderson, Stefon Harris, Clarke Terry and numerous other artists and leads his own septet.
Organist Duncan McMillan has performed with Jon Hendricks, Aretha Franklin, Rodney Whitaker, Ira Sullivan, Marcus Belgrave, Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents and The Paul Keller Orchestra, among others. Saxophonist Ben Jansson has recorded with Paul Keller and Pete Siers. Trumpeter Justin Walter is a member of both the Ann Arbor-based band, Nemo, and the Randy Napoleon sextet.