14 February 1934, San Mateo, California, USA. Merl Saunders is best known for his keyboard playing in a 70s band with Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. Saunders began playing keyboards professionally at the age of 13 in San Francisco, concentrating on the organ after hearing jazz organist Jimmy Smith in 1957. Saunders worked in jazz outfits with vibes player Lionel Hampton and vocalist Billy Williams in the early 60s and put together his own trio with Eddie Moore and Jimmy Daniels at the end of that decade. He recorded his first album with Moore and Daniels and the Ray Shanklin Big Band for Galaxy Records in 1968. That same year he served as musical director for a Broadway musical in New York City, Big Time Buck White, with jazz vocalist Oscar Brown Jnr. Following that he stayed on Broadway as musical director for a show starring boxer Muhammad Ali, providing drummer Billy Cobham with one of his first professional gigs.
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