Carl Saunders was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and his first five years of life were mostly spent on the road. His uncle, trumpeter-bandleader Bobby Sherwood, was riding high with the popular Sherwood Orchestra having hits with "Elks Parade" and "Sherwood's Forest." Saunders' mother Gail (Bobby's sister) sang for the Sherwood Orchestra and Stan Kenton, among others. When Carl was five, he and his mother settled in Los Angeles; living with his aunt Caroline and her husband, tenor-saxophonist Dave Pell. At the time, Saunders heard the records of the Dave Pell Octet and was influenced by the style and phrasing of trumpeter Don Fagerquist.
Carl began playing trumpet in the seventh grade and found that he had a natural ability, mostly learning to play by ear and never taking any trumpet lessons. He played in school bands, and after graduating high school, his mother helped him get a job with Stan Kenton's Orchestra when he was 18 years old. Saunders auditioned for Kenton's band and was given a choice: wait for an opening in the trumpet section or join the band the following week as a member of the mellophonium section. He chose the latter and spent much of 1961-62 on the road with Stan Kenton.
After spending part of 1962-63 traveling with Bobby Sherwood's group (playing drums), Carl settled back in Las Vegas where during the next 20 years he played with a countless number of show bands, including lead trumpet with Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet, and Frank Sinatra. Saunders also traveled as a lead player with Paul Anka and Robert Goulet and with such bandleaders as Si Zentner, Harry James, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet. In 1978, he also played drums one night in Las Vegas with Harry James and his band when Sonny Payne missed his plane and couldn't get to the gig.
In 1984, Carl moved to Los Angeles where he was soon playing lead trumpet with Bill Holman's Big Band, a position that he still holds. Saunders has also worked with John Williams and the big bands of Bob Florence, Johnny Mandel, Gerald Wilson, and the Phil Norman Tentet. In 1994, Carl became a member of the Dave Pell Octet (in Don Fagerquist's old chair.) In addition, he is often heard at the head of his own groups including the Carl Saunders Be Bop Big Band, his sextet and a quartet.
In high school, Carl was out trying to play jazz at every opportunity and didn't really practice the trumpet ... he played the trumpet relentlessly. Even when Carl began to play professionally with Stan Kenton and others, he would seek out jazz clubs after his paid gig just to play into the late hours of the morning. carl would frequently catch cabs just to get to a jazz club to play (after his gigs while on the road.)
Carl, who is one of those treasured jazz trumpet players who can also play lead trumpet utilizes the following gear:
Carl's Trumpet Gear:
Carl has been using a "used" Burbank Benge Trumpet for many many years. He plays on a Bach 10.5C trumpet mouthpiece when playing jazz and has used a number of smaller pieces when playing Lead.
Carl's Trumpet Tips:
Improvisation is "creating" ... therefore, Carl recommends continuoulsy practicing by playing through a series of common chord changes at different tempo's. One is playing something different each and every time by practicing in this manner. When Carl was first learning to improvise, he worked very hard on various chromatic scales.
Use the least amount of air to get the job done. Make the horn do the work. When playing Lead trumpet ... don't overblow.