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Keith Saunders

Keith Saunders at the piano at SF jazz



NY HardBop Quintet

Dick Berk

Richie Vitale


Undergraduate degree, Empire State College


What is your hometown?

Wilkes Barre, PA

What is your favorite recording? Why?

Wynton Kelly at Midnight,' which contains the greatest 4 seconds in the history of recorded music -- Philly Joe Jone's intro on "On Stage." 

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Sports, literature, and film. 

Who were your major teachers?

Cora Upp, Charlie Shoemake, and Terry Trotter

What is a favorite quote that you repeatedly tell students?

"It's all music to me." - Charlie Parker

What question do you wish students would ask sooner rather than later?

How much do I want to be a musician?

What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?

Seeing Cedar Walton play at a local club in Los Angeles and realizing that I would have to get back east in order to play this music in the manner I wanted to.  

What was a turning point in your career?

Studying with Charlie Shoemake, who introduced this Valley boy to the likes of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Sonny Rollins.  

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?


What is your daily practice routine?

One hour of technique, one hour of classical music, one hour of improvisation.  If time permits, I'll learn transcribed solos in as many keys as possible.  I'll also learn new songs, and if the inspiration strikes, compose.  I conclude with 15 minutes of screaming at myself.  

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Ludwig Van. 

From a music history perspective, what year and city are most important to you, and why?

Early 40s in New York City, where the be bop revolution was being incubated. 

What is your unrealized project?

Getting dental insurance. 

What do you think makes a concert experience unique?

A musician that can connect with the audience with both their instrument and the spoken word. 

Please list your most important collaborations.

The New York HardBop Quintet, which was a collective group.  

Seven years ago I collaborated with vocalist Elena Basano, and lyricist, Ellen Johnson.  I composed 10 original compositions for Bason's CD project.  

What recordings can we hear you on? (Please list five or fewer and specify record label.)

The HardBop Quintet - Rokermotion. TCB
Smith Dobson - Song of Wood - Weedy records
Keith Saunders Trio - Lost In Queens TCB


I am from Los Angeles, where I studied with Charlie Shoemake and later, with Horace Silver. 

While still in L.A. I worked with such well known artists as Eddie Harris, Roy McCurdy, and Bill Watrous, as well as recording with Dick Berk's Jazz Adoption Agency, for which I was the arranger.

In 1984 Keith I moved to New York City where I worked and/or recorded with Richie Cole, Joe Lovano, Ralph Lalama, Joe Magnarelli, and Jerry Weldon, as well as led my own group, The NY HardBop Quintet.  That group recorded 4 CDs for the TCB label.

In 2010 I moved to the Bay Area where I have worked with Akira Tana, Donald Bailey, Frank Tusa, Andrew Speight, Warren Gayle, Pete Yellin, and Vince Lateano.