[Dixielandjazz] Re: Phil Napoleon at Nick's - was ODJB

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 17 10:42:49 PST 2003

Jim Beebe wrote as part of a great post (polite snip)

> Phil Napoleon was one of the finest trumpet players to ever play dixieland
> jazz.  Phil was an early great himself and his Memphis Five band that was in
> residence at Nicks in NY for so long in the late 40s-early 50s was patterned
> after the ODJB.  His wonderful drummer, Tony Spargo (Sparbaro) was the
> original drummer in the ODJB.  Phil played the perfect lead for the
> ensemble, that is the heart of dixieland jazz.  His trombonist, Andy Russo,
> played superb ensemble patterned after Eddy Edwards, the OJDB trombonist.
> Phil's clarinetist, Phil Olivella, was a wonderful solo and ensemble player.
> He could weave around the polyphonic-contrapuntal ensemble and bring real
> excitement to it.  His solos swung as harfd as anybody playing jazz.  So I
> have to think that this band is what the ODJB would have sounded like if
> they were around in later years.  Incidentally, Steve these guys were all of
> Italian descent.

Oh my, yes. You are 100% on this band. I was just starting to gig in NYC at the time,
and got to sit in with some of this band at Nick's on a night that Spargo was absent,
else I could claim having played with one of the original members of the 1917 ODJB.
Spargo had changed his name from Sparbaro as you know, but others might not. They were
very kind to me and my limited OKOM clarinet experience/ability.

They were, as I heard them, "very loosely" patterned after ODJB, but several
generations removed as Mop so correctly points out about Cullum and other bands today.
Since there were updated with 2 chorus solos, etc., IMO they were more a "Chicago"
style band than an ODJB (White N.O. type?) type band. Some folks would even classify
their style as "Nicksieland" but perhaps that goes too far.

Phil Napoleon. A great lead horn from a very musical family. His brothers were also
great players.

Russo was a joy. Wonderful player, wonderful man, sparkling humorous eyes and playing
style. Now and then he would stare at a lady up front, then hold his arm straight out,
palm facing her, and move it in a circular motion to everyone's delight. A friend of
mine got one of his trombones when Andy passed. Great garlic smell in that horn.

Sal Pace (also Italian ;-) was on clarinet that night. Marvelous player and a good
friend. A real professional who fit right in to that band.

I think I posted it before, but Spargo was an accomplished Kazoo player and would get a
Kazoo solo most nights. Once, the band (with Pace, Traeger (bass) Napoleon, Russo and
piano (can't remember) all snuck kazoos onto the stand. And when Spargo's kazoo solo
time arrived, they whipped them out and played along with him, mugging fiercely. Broke
the place, and the band, up.

You had to love those Italians (except for Traeger who is German) at Nick's. The whole
joint had that Italian atmosphere. And why not? Nick and the Mrs. were Rongetti's.

Those days, bands stayed together and worked fairly long term club date gigs. Today,
there is virtually no equivalent except Jim Cullum's Band. We can talk about FINE BANDS
like Roof Garden, or Independence Hall, or whomever, but for the most part, they are
pick-up bands playing just a few dates a year and then making a tribute CD. Meanwhile,
because of other commitments, the personnel in the bands shift depending upon who is
available for certain dates. For example, I have subbed for Orange Kellin when he
couldn't make some IHJB dates. And Orange replaced Dan Levinson who was in the band

Steve Barbone

PS. Taking the music of the ODJB in the context of the times, one has to, if nothing
else, admire it.

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