MUSIC MAN OF
A mud-spattered soldier
Brooklyn USA wandered, late in December 1944, into the little
town of Comblain-La-Tour, Belgium. It was a village, really, with
fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. The town was battered by buzz bombs
and artillery, and only a handful of people had clung to it.
Joe Napoli, a Brooklyn
boy, was at
this stage just plain homesick; he was also wet, cold and
generally miserable. He wanted to forget the Battle of the Bulge
for a few hours. He wanted to talk to somebody who did not wear a
uniform; somebody who did not have "kill or be killed"
on the brain; somebody who would not keep reminding him that Von
Rundstedt had to be stopped.
On that cold, foggy day
Comblain-La-Tour Joe got his wish. The first man he met simply
said, "Would you like a hot drink? Or a chance to warm your
feet?" It was the first real kindness Joe had encountered in
a long time. All he could do was nod. The man led him into one of
the few houses that had escaped the flying bombs. Right behind
the house was a big kitchen where shining pots were hanging and a
glowing stove was giving out a wonderful heat. Joe was introduced
to half a dozen people who were talking about crops and what the
priest had said at mass - all just as if the war had never
existed! "They took me in," Joe said later in awe,
"as though I was one of them. They fed me and gave me a
place by the stove and suddenly I wasn't homesick anymore. Man,
it was wonderful!"
After that Joe's love
the little Belgian town blossomed rapidly. He came back to visit
his new friends as often as possible, and they always welcomed
him like a long lost son.
Eventually, Joe Napoli,
millions of other G.I.'s, was shipped back to the States. Yet
even then he never forgot Comblain-La-Tour, and he never stopped
asking himself one question "How can I show my
The answer was a long
Joe had to earn a living first of all. It took him almost 10
years to become established as a manager-producer of bands, and an
as agent for singers. But in 1955 he was solid enough to make his
first trip back to Europe, managing bands touring the continent.
Before the tour was over, Joe found time to pay a quick visit to
Comblain-La-Tour. Most of the homes had been rebuilt and the
fields and mountains seemed more beautiful than when he'd seen
them before. "But all I could do," he remembers now
"was go around shaking hands and say how glad I was to be
back." Then early in 1959 he got his big inspiration,
"I heard," he says, "that the town needed money to
rebuild it's church. That's when I knew I couldn't let the people
down. My business was music and handling bands. I decided to get
some bands together and stage a big festival to raise money for
the church, and stage it right there in the village square!"
From any point of view,
it was a
crazy idea. Nobody outside Belgium had ever heard of
Comblain-La-Tour. The town was too small to accommodate hordes of
people - even if they did come. Joe had never staged a big
festival in his life.
But his enthusiasm worked
Paul Gabriel, chief of the newspaper La Meuse, got behind the
project and became its sponsor. Two others who worked closely
with Joe were Willy Henroteaux, ace publicity man, and Madame
Raymonde Lismonde, a genius on plans and details.
Working together, the
decided that August 2nd,1959, would be the big day. Then they
beat the publicity drums in a non-stop effort to let the whole of
Europe know that the International Festival of Jazz would soon be
coming up in Comblain-La-Tour.
The mayor, the priest,
postmistress and schoolmistress worked overtime to make the town
pretty. Joe scouted around and lined up some pretty good talent:
Romano Mussolini, the George Gruntz trio, Lilian Terry, and Rolf
Then, when everything was
it rained. "But," says Joe, "the Lord was with us.
The rain slacked off a little in the afternoon. Before the
programme was over, 8,000 people had showed up."
With the help of his
ex-GI had made history, and it would have been hard to find a
happier man. For, in the end, there was not only money to start
rebuilding the new church, but also enough for a bell. And the
best was yet to come.
Joe and his associates
jubilant they decided to try it again. For 196O they picked some
name attractions - Britain's Petula Clark, France's Charles
Aznavour, America's Bill Coleman and Kenny Clarke, among others.
They gave the festival a two-day run, and when the final count
was made, they discovered that 22,000 spectators had joined in
the fun More encouraging-more than 100 journalists had been on
hand to Write it up, and a dozen radio and TV stations had spread
the message throughout Europe.
It kept on getting
1961, just over 30,000 were in attendance - and the one-day
record (16,000) held previously by the Newport, R.l., festival in
the U.S.A. was broken.
By 1962 Comblain-La-Tour
place. On Aug. 4-5, visitors came from all over Europe, with a
few even from the U.S.A. America's Cannonball Adderley and
Frankie Avalon were the top stars - but there were also bands and
singers from France, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland,
Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, and Yugoslavia.
Attendance in 1962 set a
record: 42,000 in two days. And right now Joe's adopted town is
the most envied and talked-about little place in Europe. It isn't
hard to figure out why. In four years, Joe Napoli's efforts have
attracted 102,000 visitors to Comblain-LaTour.
Joe is the first American
made an honorary citizen of Comblain-La-Tour. Because of him, the town'
s main square has a new name, Times Square, plus a genuine
Times Square-sign sent over from New York in 1961.
There had to be something
story of the war that brought Joe and Comblain-LaTour together,
but mostly it is about how sudden fame came to a little-known
village because a man with a debt of kindness just had to pay it
more about comblain and
Comblain is still as much
"fête" as ever-a sort of Belgian equivalent to the
French 24 hour Le Mans road race attracting a large percentage of
its visitors solely by the fairground atmosphere. However, the
festival has steadily grown in stature and the year 1952 saw its
coming of age as a jazz festival.
That the 1962 Festival
was such a
success was nothing short of a miracle achieved in the face of
what was probably the worst ever festival weather imaginable.
This was the festival during which "the rains came."
The rains came, and so then did the mud. Mud of the variety which
made the Belgian World War I battlegrounds so infamous. Cars were
stuck in it, spectators were stuck in it, and musicians were
stuck in it. That the festival did not get stuck in the mud was
due to the almost unbelievably efficient organization by Joe
Napoli - the calmest festival promoter in the business. A
continuous and varied supply of jazz for two days fortified the
damp shivering masses against the elements.
The inevitable backstage
disappeared smoothly and silently. The appearance of the Adderley
band was undoubtedly the biggest single factor in establishing
Comblain solidly on the jazz map. The band was flown to Europe
from New York especially for the Festival and their appearance on
stage at 10.30 P.M. on the second day marked the climax of the
entire proceedings. The band had actually arrived in Belgium two
days earlier and had been holed up there after at a small family
type hotel in the middle of nowhere just watching the rain and
The release from the
dynamism of New York plus inactivity for three days made the band
understandably somewhat nervous before they went on stage to face
the 40,000, plus an amazing battery of Eurovision TV cameras,
radio and recording mikes and literally masses of amateur
Any inhibitions were
dispelled as Cannon got to grips with the biggest jazz audience
he had ever seen with some of his by now customary happy and hip
articulations. And so to the music:
Yusef Lateef's intriguing
(Personal Bag) gives all the front line a chance to produce
what's in their personal bag. Fine ensemble and solo playing by
Cannon, Nat and Yusef with the incredible work out by Nat not the
least noteworthy feature.
Jimmy Heath's jazz waltz
has appeared before on one of the Sextet's previous albums
(Riverside 404). The interpretation given here at Comblain makes
an interesting comparison and enables one to ponder on the
influence that Yusef Lateef has had on the band. Nat in
particular makes a bow in Yusef's direction before ending his
solo with a delicious quote from "My favorite things."
Yusef himself gets off a gutty meaty tenor solo in between his
flute work on the opening and closing themes.
WORK SONG: by now an
jazz standard produced some of the best solo playing of the
concert. Cannonball's work is both earthy and humorous and he too
exhibits an Eastern influence in his solo. Nat is thoroughly at
home on his own tune and displays his incredible capacity for
playing "hot" by building his contribution to a searing
The old classic blues
MIND is largely a feature for the extremely personal, sound of
Yusef's oboe and Joe Zawinul's thoughtful piano. The proceedings
being - climaxed by Yusef with a dramatically intense sustained
So, Cannonball moves on
San Remo, Japan, San Francisco we hope he'll be back before too
long; in the meantime we are glad he came to warm up Comblain on
a very cold and very wet weekend.