Phil Napolean - trumpet
Johnny Varro - piano
Harry DiVito - trombone
Kenny Davern - clarinet
Pete Rogers - bass
Sonny Igoe - drums
Since the inception of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, producer George Wein has always made sure to have Dixieland and early New Orleans music represented from year to year. Sometimes it would be in the form of a hand-picked aggregation he dubbed the Newport Jazz All-Stars (which usually included Wein himself on piano). But for the 1959 festival, Wein relied on old school trumpeter Phil Napolean to deliver the Dixieland goods. A contemporary of such early jazz giants as Bix Beiderbecke and Red Nichols, the Boston native made his first appearance at Newport with a new edition of his Original Memphis Five (a band that dates back to the 1920s) including pianist Johnny Varro, trombonist Harry DiVito, clarinet ace Kenny Davern and bassist Pete Rogers. Sonny Igoe, a ubiquitous session player and big band drummer from New York, was a last minute substitution on this gig for Tony Spargo, a charter member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the New Orleans quintet that made the first jazz recordings in 1917, and a Napolean colleague since the 1920s. Together they turned in a spirited toe-tapping set of tunes that harken back to the beginnings of jazz. And Napolean, just two months shy of his 59th birthday at the time, was an ebullient spokesman for the band in their exuberant Newport set.
They open with "That's A Plenty," a raucous number that dates back to 1914 and has remained in the repertoire of all Dixieland and trad jazz players over the years. Everyone in the band gets a taste here. Davern leads off with a clarinet solo that is raw and inspired. He's followed by DeVito, who turns an extroverted trombone solo full of tailgator energy. Varro's two-fisted piano solo is solidly swinging while Napolean's forays into the high register on trumpet elicit excited shouts of "Go! Go!" from his bandmates on stage. Igoe's slick hi hat work is definitely coming out of a Papa Jo Jones tradition rather than an early New Orleans jazz tradition. And he certainly reveals himself to be more of a modernist with his brief flurry on the kit at the tag.
Next up is a funereal version of "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue," a melancholy lament written in 1929 by the team of Fats Waller and lyricist Andy Razaf for the Broadway musical Hot Chocolates and later popularized by blues singer Ethel Waters. Midway through this slow drag the band breaks into double-time mode and swings in effervescent fashion for a few bars before returning to the bluesy refrain; a nice dynamic shift that energizes the piece. Their romping take on "Limehouse Blues," a British number introduced to American audiences in 1924 by Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, allows all the individuals to stretch out on some extended solos. Leader Napolean takes his time here before launching into another high-note barrage. And once again, Igoe's playing is so hip and interactive that it reveals him to be more bebopper at heart than Dixielander. But his fresh energy seems to invigorate the band on this longstanding jam vehicle.
Napolean shows off his pure, clear tones on trumpet on a stirring rendition of "Tin Roof Blues," a piece written in 1923 by George Brunies. The quintet's loose interaction on this early jazz number is the very definition of collective improvisation. DiVito also turns in a particularly inspired trombone solo here.
And they have a rousing finish with a seamless medley that includes such old-time numbers as "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Shine," a tune popularized in the '30s by Louis Armstrong.
Shortly after his one and only appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Napolean moved to Miami, Florida, where he ran a club called Napoleon's Retreat. He played regularly in his club through the '60s and '70s. He died at home on September 30, 1990 at age 89. (Milkowski)