First Chair

Marshall Royal

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First Chair Review

by Scott Yanow

Other than six isolated titles from 1951-1953, an obscure Everest LP in 1960, and a date co-led with Snooky Young for Concord, this album was altoist Marshall Royal's debut as a leader. Although he had been playing with major bands since the 1930s (including 20 years with Count Basie), Royal had always been thought of as a dependable sideman and a first altoist in big bands rather than a leader. For the first of his two Concord dates (neither of which have yet been reissued on CD), Royal is joined by the underrated guitarist Cal Collins, pianist Nat Pierce, bassist Monty Budwig, and drummer Jake Hanna. In addition to a Royal blues line ("Jump"), the quintet performs seven veteran standards, only one of which (Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'") was from the Count Basie band book. Royal was long overdue to be showcased in this setting, as he shows on likable interpretations of such numbers as "I've Got the World on a String," "Jitterbug Waltz," and "My Ideal."