Merl Saunders

Hammond B-3 player Merl Saunders recorded with numerous renowned artists beginning in the early '70s and led many of his own dates in a variety of genres from jazz to blues to new age to rock.

Born on Valentine's Day, 1934 in San Mateo, California, Saunders began learning to play the piano at the age of 10. (He was a classmate and bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school.)

Saunders decided on music as a profession after seeing how much fun was had by audience and performers alike at concerts by such musicians as Cab Calloway. He apprenticed early on with Jimmy Smith for a time, and attended various music schools. Starting in the early '70s, Saunders collaborated on and off with Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead. He also began working as a jazz keyboardist, and performed and recorded with Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Butterfield. One of his several albums with Jerry Garcia, Blues from the Rainforest, hit the Top 5 of the U.S. Billboard New Age charts in the early '90s. Saunders also ran his own label, Sumertone, which included much of his catalog, as did the Fantasy label. In 1998, Saunders released his 20th album as a leader, With His Funky Friends: Live! (Sumertone), which included guests Garcia, John Popper (of Blues Traveler), and Trey Anastasio (of Phish). In addition to his busy touring schedule, the San Franciscan also wrote scores for TV and movies, including Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone, Heavy Traffic, and Fritz the Cat. ~ Joslyn Layne, Rovi

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