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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



Most days, I am besieged by noise and constant announcements of “breaking news”. I hear music and see a lot of art that is violent, forceful and sometimes off setting. Too many drivers behind me are in a hurry and think tailgating is the answer. I notice a lot of grim people standing in line at the grocers, some glowering at their children. We are often so driven to succeed that we miss out on the pleasures that surround us. Then there are people like Randy Napoleon. Randy is a role model. He reminds me that life is good and everything will be alright. Randy, by example, shows us what someone going gently through life looks like.

Randy Napoleon (born 30 May 1978) is an American jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger.

He works sitting down, often with a smile on his face. His job is playing the guitar and teaching others how much fun it is to play jazz guitar. Randy’s guitar is an extension of his calmness and joy. Randy’s temperament is a gift to all that come in contact with him.

I know Randy mostly through his gigs at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and listening to his CDs while I paint. I did have a chance to spend time `with Randy when I took pictures of him for his album THE JUKEBOX CROWD

Randy and his wife Alison joined me and my camera for a walk around the Eastern Market and then a visit to The Carr Center.

Jazz musicians are usually in a hurry or like you to think that they are. They are in reality some of the busiest people you will meet. Photo shoots can be an inconvenience. This was not the case spending time with Alison and Randy that magical day. It was less a task than a shared moment when we could enjoy each other’s company. It was a shared adventure. It explains why Randy has been sought after as a sideman and collaborator in the jazz community.

It is in this role that I first heard Randy play live at the Dirty Dog.

Randy was touring with the legendary singer/pianist Freddy Cole. Freddy Cole’s naturally calm but sure, gentle but strong approach to life perfectly matched Randy’s. I had a chance to spend time with them in the club’s green room, which became a no conflict zone with their presence. This happens often in that room, as mutual respect is essential to playing good jazz. Randy and Freddy both understand this. It shows in their music.

Here are some other comments which attest to my take on Randy Napoleon and his music.

Washington City Paper reviewer wrote that “Napoleon’s unhurried, light touches lace perfectly with Cole’s, whether he’s answering the pianist’s melodies in short phrases or taking the stage with longer improvisations.

Guitarist George Benson calls Napoleon “sensational.”” He has an all-fingers approach; he doesn’t use just thumb or pick.”

Washington Post critic Mike Joyce praises his “exceptionally nimble finger-style technique.”

Mark Stryker helps us understand Randy’s style: “Napoleon plays with a gentle, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation, and his improvisations are true narratives, a collection of shapely melodies rather than a series of prepackaged licks”.

Critics have also commented on Napoleon’s preference for restraint, as demonstrated by his not showing off by playing fast or being self-indulgent when soloing.

“His melodic lines are clean and uncomplicated. He shows a sensitivity for song rather than a desire to show off.” Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Randy Napoleon’s golden-toned guitar lines carry Cole or frame him in all the right places.” Kirk Silshee, Down Beat Magazine

“His guitar lines are soulful and smart.” Marc S. Taras, Current Magazine

“Guitarist Napoleon, fresh-faced and youthful, solos finger-style, mixing complexity with swing, echoing his heros, Montgomery and Kessel.” Peter Vacher, Jazzwise magazine

“From Randy Napoleon’s boyish appearance one might think he’s just starting out. In fact, he’s one of the more accomplished and well-rounded jazz guitarists of our day. ” David R. Adler, Philadelphia Weekly


Randy’s combination of being good natured, being constantly curious and having a positive attitude is infectious. Just ask his students.He is currently an assistant professor at Michigan State University, where he teaches jazz guitar. He also holds  master classes at universities and music schools throughout the country. 

Randy grew up in Ann Arbor and studied at the University of Michigan School of Music. He moved to New York City after graduating in 1999, enjoyed success, started a family and returned in 2014 to his home state after his appointment to Michigan State University’s College of Music as the first full-time professor of jazz guitar in the college. The program has attracted promising students from across the country. He has already begun populating the jazz scene with well adjusted and highly skilled guitarists. He will give us a chance to meet some of these strong young musicians at to the Dirty Dog this coming week. Randy told me that as much as he enjoys playing with his peers and elders he is especially pleased to share the music with those he thinks have arrived.

Randy Napoleon will have  some brilliant young talent join him this week

Wed-Thursday,  Liany Matteo will be on bass, David Alvarez on drums and Luther Allison on piano. Fri- Sat it will be Stanley Ruvinov on bass , Zach Adleman on drums and Luther Allison on piano.

Randy Napoleon will probably find it difficult not to smile as he has a habit of doing when listening to others play. He probably will smile because he knows how fortunate he is. He will smile because he knows something that playing jazz has taught him, nice jazz guys can finish first.

After a day of shoveling, you may need a dose of hot jazz and warm smiles.

John Osler


January 30 – February 2


Randy will bring his guitar, his smile and some young talented friends to the Dirty Dog this week. You may have already heard Randy as he has played on over 70 CDs. Wow!

#MarkStryker #DirtyDog #AguankoLatinMusicCubaCubanjazz #RodneyWhitaker #RandyNapoleon #SeanDobbins #DetroitJazz #DirtyDogJazzCafé #JazzinDetroit #JAZZMUSIC #FreddieCole #RalpheArmstrong #DaveBennett #SeanDobbinsQuintet #musicDirtyDogJazzCafe

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