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Carl Saunders: New Standards


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Carl Saunders is one of jazz's best-kept secrets, and he kind of likes it that way. Born in 1942, Saunders is a trumpeter, composer and educator of the highest order who has worked with a long list of jazz giants, from Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson. Many factors set Saunders apart, including his skills as a player-composer, his warm tone and his exquisite taste.

Even more significant is his vast catalog of original compositions that are built to stand the test of time. Fortunately, the brilliant minds at Summit Records decided to release four albums dedicated to his music, featuring different leading jazz musicians. Summit was founded in 1988 by trumpeter David Hickman and trombonist Ralph Sauer, and the Saunders series began in 2013.

Born in Indianapolis, Saunders fell in love with the sound of Don Fagerquist's trumpet and the Dave Pell Octet. He began playing trumpet in the seventh grade and became a high-school star without taking lessons. After graduation, he joined Stan Kenton's band. His first recording with Kenton's orchestra was Horns of Plenty Vol. 1 (Tantara) in 1961, in the mellophonium section.

Much of Saunders's career in the 1960s and beyond has been spent in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. All of his recordings are worth owning. Start with Phil Urso & Carl Saunders Salute Chet Baker and Phil Woods & Carl Saunders Play Henry Mancini.

Now, for the Summit series. Each of the four albums features New Jazz Standards in the title. While that claim may seem brash, once you hear Saunders's works, you'll realize that “new standards" is hardly an overstatement. All of Saunders's songs are richly melodic and engaging in their construction. At the heart of each piece is a singable melody that builds neatly and tells a story.

The New Jazz Standards series features albums by flutist Sam Most (2013), trombonist Scott Whitfield (2016), pianist Roger Kellaway (2018) and guitarist Larry Koonse (2019). All of the songs are by Saunders, and each album provides takes on songs chosen from his catalog. The artists chosen are impeccable. I wish I could tell you that one of these albums is the best of the bunch or that one is a perfect gateway to the series, but they're all marvelous. I'd buy all four. Each is executed at a high level, deeply personal from the artist's perspective and captures the spirit of Saunders's remarkable talent. [Photo above of Carl Saunders]

Of the four artists, only Sam Most is no longer with us. He died in 2013.

JazzWax tracks: Here's Larry Koonse playing Saunders's A Poor Man's Mister Evans, with Josh Nelson (p), Larry Koonse (g), Tom Warrington (b) and Joe LaBarbera (d)...

Here's Roger Kellaway playing Saunders's Calming Notion, with Jay Leonhart (b) and Peter Erskine (d)...

Here's Scott Whitfield playing Saunders's Prudence, with Scott Whitfield (tb), Christian Jacob (p), Kevin Axt (b) and Peter Erskine (d)...

And here's Sam Most playing Saunders's Twinkling Eye, with Sam Most (fl, alto fl, clarinet, bari, voc), Christian Jacob (p), Kevin Axt (b), Santo Savino (d) and Leddie Gardia (perc)...

Bonus: And here's Carl Saunders and tenor saxophonist Phil Urso playing Line for Lyons...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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