Marshall Royal

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Marshal Royal (or Marshall Royal, 12 May 1912 – 9 May 1995) was an American clarinettist and alto saxophonist best known for his work with Count Basie, with whose band he played for nearly twenty years.

Marshal Royal, Jr. was born into a musical family in Oklahoma, the elder brother of trumpeter Ernie Royal, and learned to play piano, violin, guitar, clarinet and sax while still a child. The family had moved to Los Angeles, California by the time he was five, and he always considered himself to be a Californian. His mother, Ernestine Walton Royal, began giving him piano lessons when he was three, and his father, from Sherman, Texas, began teaching him violin when he was six. (Royal notes in his memoir: "We seem to be only people named 'Marshal' who spell it with only one 'L.'") Because his father was such a successful music teacher in Sherman, a street there is named for him: Music Street. After Marshal Royal began learning violin, he soon discovered he had what others called "perfect pitch" although he preferred to call it "approximate pitch." He first performed in public at the age of thirteen and began scoring and writing music while a senior in high school. His first professional gig was with Lawrence Brown's band at Danceland in Los Angeles, and he soon had a regular gig at the Apex, working for Curtis Mosby in Mosby's Blue Blowers, a 10-piece band. He then began an eight-year (1931–1939) stint with the Les Hite orchestra at Sebastian's Cotton Club, which was near the MGM studios in Los Angeles. He spent 1940 to 1942 with Lionel Hampton, until the war interrupted his career. With his brother, Ernie, he served in the U.S. Navy in the 45-piece regimental band that was attached to the Navy's preflight training school for pilots at St. Mary's College in Morago, California. Because he was married, Royal was allowed to stay off-campus, and like several others in the band, he found lodging in San Francisco, 26 miles away. The band's routine at St. Mary's consisted of playing for colors daily at 8.a.m, and then rehearsing until they played again for the cadets to march to lunch, at noon. Bandsmen were allowed to eat in the same lunchroom as the cadets, after the cadets were finished eating, and they were fed the same food. The band also played for bond rallies, regimental reviews, at football games, and in concerts for the cadets and the community. Two swing bands were organized from the larger regimental band, and they played for smokers and dances at USOs and officers clubs. Marshal Royal was leader of the Bombardiers, one of those bands, which also included his brother, Ernie; Jackie Kelson, who became known as Jackie Kelso; Buddy Collette; Andy Anderson; Earl Watkins; Jerome Richardson; Wilbert "Willie" Baranco; Curtis Lowe; and Quedellus Martin, as well as Vernon Alley (also from the Lionel Hampton band)[1] who would become "the most distinguished jazz musician in San Francisco history."[2]

After his military service, Royal played with Eddie Heywood, then went on to work in studios in Los Angeles, California.

In 1951 Royal replaced Buddy DeFranco as clarinettist with Count Basie's septet, which Basie had formed after circumstances forced him to dissolve his big band. When the Basie band was reformed the following year, Royal stayed on as lead alto saxophonist and as music director — not to leave until 1970. Though he was admired as an occasional soloist, his main rôle was as an important part of the reeds section, and as a leader who helped to give Basie's sound its distinctively precise yet swinging character.

When he left Basie in 1970, Royal settled permanently in Los Angeles, continuing to play and record, working with Bill Berry's big band, Frank Capp and Nat Pierce, Earl Hines, and Duke Ellington.

Royal recorded as a soloist with Dave Frishberg in 1977, and with Warren Vache in 1978. He co-led a band with Snooky Young in the 1970s and 1980s, recording with it in 1978,[3] and with Ella Fitzgerald and Gene Harris, among others. In 1989 he took the lead alto chair with Frank Wess's big band.


  • 1960: Gordon Jenkins Presents (Everest)
  • 1978: First Chair (Concord Jazz)
  • 1978: Snooky and Marshall's Album with Snooky Young[4]
  • 1980: Royal Blue (Concord Jazz)

As sideman[edit]

With Clifford Coulter

Marshal was also a guest soloist on "THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW", Salute to Irving Berlin. Great solo on "I can't get started with you"


  1. ^ Marshal Royal, "Marshal Royal: Jazz Survivor," London: Cassell, 1996
  2. ^ Alex Walsh, "Earl Watkins--Mr. Lucky" Local 6 Archives, Musicians Union Local 6, San Francisco, CA
  3. ^ Review at allmusic
  4. ^ Review at allmusic

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]