Born in Brooklyn and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Randy Napoleon began his journey in jazz immediately after finishing his studies at the University of Michigan. Jeff Hamilton of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra invited the young Napoleon to do a series of performances with them at the Hollywood Bowl. From there, Napoleon's career took off, first touring with pianist Benny Green nationally and internationally for a year, and then full time with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. A three-year stint with crooner Michael Buble followed; Napoleon is featured on Buble's Grammy-nominated CD “Caught in the Act.”
Guitarist George Benson calls Napoleon “sensational.” Detroit Free Press critic Mark Stryker says Napoleon “plays with a gentle, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation.” Washington Post critic Mike Joyce praises his “exceptionally nimble finger-style technique.” Comparing him to Wes Montgomery, music critic Michael G. Nastos says, “he displays an even balance of swing, soul, and single-line or chord elements that mark an emerging voice dedicated to tradition and universally accessible jazz values.”
Napoleon currently tours with the legendary singer/pianist, Freddy Cole, and is featured on Cole’s 2009 album, “Live at Dizzy’s Club: The Dreamer in Me.“ He is the main arranger and the guitarist on “Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B,” a 2010 Grammy-nominated release from High Note that features songs from the Billy Eckstine song book, as well as on “Talk to Me,” Cole's 2011 album, and Cole's most recent album “This and That.”
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. In addition to backing the best, he leads his own bands, an organ trio, a trombone trio, a quartet with piano, and a three-horn sextet that includes organ, drums, trumpet, tenor sax, and trombone.
He joined the MSU College of Music faculty in fall 2014 as assistant professor of jazz guitar.