Salutes to the living are too few in the music community. A happy exception was the tribute, held Wednesday at the Ventura Club in Sherman Oaks, to alto saxophonist Marshall Royal.
Though short on music, the event, organized by trumpeter Uan Rasey and a group of friends, was consistently entertaining, thanks to an ingenious format.
Royal, best known for his 20 years with the Count Basie orchestra, was seen in a series of film clips, the first showing him with the Juggernaut Band playing the Billy Strayhorn composition "All Heart." Royal's eloquent sound, both on solos and as reed-section leader, provided admirable evidence of a point most of the speakers stressed--he's peerless in his field and, at 80, playing better than ever.
In subsequent clips, Royal introduced, in his well-known sardonic style, the upcoming guests, who appeared live on the dais. The show was held together by Jack Sheldon, whom Royal introduced as "a total idiot--but a great trumpet player." A natural comic, Sheldon kept the crowd laughing continuously.
Fellow saxophonists Ann Patterson, Jack Kelso, Bill Green and Buddy Collette paid their homage, as did Bill Berry and Frank Capp, leaders respectively of the L.A. Big Band and Juggernaut, both of which claim Royal as a regular member.
Following the presentation of awards, sheet music was distributed to the audience, which sang, with Gerald Wiggins at the piano, a slightly shaky but well-meant unison vocal on "You're a Sweetheart." Royal was visibly touched.