Growing up with a beloved legendary musician as a father, Tony Saunders not only lived in a loving family, but was able to meet and be mentored by an almost unimaginable number of famous and influential musicians outside of his own family.
Tony’s father was the late Merl Saunders, pianist and keyboardist extraordinaire who played for many years with Jerry Garcia, in addition to a host of other luminaries such as Johnny Mathis, Miles Davis, BB King, Mike Bloomfield, The Dinosaurs to name a few.
As young Saunders, who takes the stage on Saturday with his own band at the Empress Theater in Vallejo, recalls, he received one of his very first piano lessons from none other than Herbie Hancock, and gifts from some of the many friends and contemporaries of his father.
“Sly Stone actually bought me an organ when I was ten,” Saunders said. “He used to come and ask my dad for advice, when he had the ‘Sylvester Stewart Show’ on KSOL am. He saw my interest in music, so he bought me a miniature B3, it was great !
Tony himself has become a world-class musician over the years, first playing bass with his dad and Garcia, among others, then collaborating with an incredible list of names that includes Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Mavis Staples and John Lee Hooker.
Saunders brings that incredible background to this weekend’s Golden Gate Jazz Festival, where he will perform with his own band alongside Lao Tizer, Eric Marienthal, Chieli Minucci and Karen Briggs, some of the most recognizable names in the world of jazz. smooth jazz. now.
The main impetus behind the festival, which was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed due to COVID, is not only to bring together a stellar lineup of musicians to listen to, but also to raise funds for the musical education of local children. .
“People always helped me when I was young, I met a lot of stars, I don’t have one of those stories where people were bad with me,” Saunders said. “I always want to help children.”
Several local philanthropists and organizations support the Golden Gate Jazz Festival, including former San Francisco 49er great Ronnie Lott.
“Ronnie puts his money where he talks, he’s one of our sponsors, with his All Stars Helping Kids organization. All proceeds go to helping children and keeping music in schools,” said Saunders, who also started a foundation with her father that provides scholarships for pianists.
In addition to his charitable fundraising work over the years, Saunders, who was born and raised in San Francisco, coached high school football and basketball in Marin County for many years. years.
“We want to try to ensure that as many children – and adults as possible – have happy endings,” Saunders said. “It’s just a wonderful thing.”
While much of the attention behind the scenes at the festival is the philanthropic aspect, the level of talent, musicianship and general enjoyment and excitement of the concert are also key to the event.
” You will not be disappointed ; you’re going to hear good music — Eric Marienthal is like the top of the ladder! said Saunders. “You’re not that hot, I mean I’m excited just to see it!”
A second weekend of the festival will take place in San Francisco at the Presidio Theater from July 22-24.