Napoleon, Phil (actually, Filippo Napoli)

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Napoleon, Phil (actually, Filippo Napoli)

Napoleon, Phil (actually, Filippo Napoli), early jazz trumpeter, leader; uncle of Marty Napoleon and Teddy Napoleon; b. Boston, Sept. 2, 1901; d. Oct. 1, 1990. He recorded prolifically as leader of the Memphis Five, also known as the Cotton Pickers, Bailey’s Lucky Seven, and Ladd’s Black Aces (though these were white groups!). Their recordings were dance-oriented, but Napoleon’s early smaller groups featured fine work by the Dorsey brothers, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang. His brother, Ted, was a drummer and the family also included saxophonists George and Joe, and guitarist Matthew. He gave his first public performance at the age of five and recorded in 1916 as a cornet soloist. He became a founder/member of the Original Memphis Five, whose prolific recordings were issued under a variety of pseudonyms, and later led own band at Rosemont Ballroom (1927). After many years of studio work with Sam Lanin, Joe Rines, Leo Reisman, B.A. Rolfe, etc., he left NBC in 1936. From 1938 he led his own big band in N.Y., Chicago, etc., then resumed freelance studio activities and entered the instrument business. He played briefly with Jimmy Dorsey in 1943. In May 1949, he re-formed the Memphis Five at Nick’s, N.Y. He led own band there for many years until moving to Florida in June 1956 where his business interests included owning a club. He returned briefly to N.Y. in July 1959, also appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival. He continued to lead own band at his Napoleon’s Retreat in Miami Beach, Florida, and remained active into the 1980s.


Two-Beat (1950); Dixieland by Phil Napoleon (1954); Dixieland Classics, Vol. 2 (1954); Phil Napoleon and the Memphis Five (1959); Phil Napoleon and His Memphis Five (I960).

—John ChiltonWho’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter