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  • Writer's pictureLuke Wolk

Album Review: Tony Saunders

Artist: Tony Saunders

Album Title: All About Love

Release: 2021

All too often when bassists record contemporary jazz albums it becomes a platform to flaunt technical prowess. Although Tony clearly has serious bass chops, the listener doesn’t need to be a musician to understand what he’s saying. His tone is warm and easy on the ears. Don’t get me wrong, we all love to hear a great player, but what separates the upper crust from the sea of good players is much deeper than chops and Tony has the whole package.

All About Love is a fourteen song, sixty minute crash course in smooth jazz. The band effortlessly moves from heartfelt ballads to upbeat funk, displaying a deep understanding of the genre. The production is refreshing in the sense that it feels real. Almost a throwback to when smooth jazz could be found in every city on the FM dial. In my case it was New York City’s CD 101.9 that provided the listener a place to hear great instrumentalists at work. This set of tracks would sit quite comfortably in that mix with the best.

Just Between Us is a cut that grabbed my ear at first listen. The bass and sax double an infectious melody for the bulk of the track. But then pass the spotlight, setting a backdrop that feature top shelf flute and piano solos. This track displays the confidence of a great band leader that has the wisdom to lay back in the pocket and let the other musicians shine, creating a piece that is drenched in color.

Push is another stand out. An upbeat funk track that has the sax as the featured melody instrument. This song is a clinic in how a band can lay a busy groove without stepping on the song itself. The slap chops that are clearly a part of Tony’s arsenal are on full display here. The nice thing is how the obvious bass virtuosity never leaves the deep pocket that both it and the drums are sitting in.

The title track All About Love is my favorite track. This one captures Tony’s exceptional musicianship on every level. As I said at the top of the review, he has the whole package. Chops, melodies, arrangement, and a tremendous sense of rhythm. His lines through this track should be studied by any musician that is serious about recording in the smooth jazz genre. His playing is precise but still relaxed, intelligent but instinctive, laying into the groove with soul and purpose.

I didn’t find a weak spot on this whole record. If you like groove based contemporary jazz it doesn’t get much better than Tony Saunders. The band and production are well rounded and feel sincere. A very enjoyable listen indeed!

Check out the interview with Tony Saunders!

Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career. With my Dad Merl Saunders being a musician I was always around music. I played piano first and switched to bass when I was 14 after watching two great bass players play. They were Anthony Davis (Walter and Ed Hawkins) & Lee Miles (Miles Davis). I received and Emmy with my dad for playing bass on a piece called “Soul Is” which was a PBS Special. I have been playing bass for 52 years now and scoring music and producing people. I won another Emmy for the show Digital Journey sponsored by Cisco and in 2022 I won a Telly Award for The video Black Lives Matter in the Social Impact I have been blessed to play all styles of music and have played with some of the greats of our time. Jerry Garcia, Dave Liebman, Dr John, Joe Sample, Esther Phillips, Chaka Kahn, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Walter and Edwin Hawkins, Stevie Wonder, Buffy St Marie, Stephen Stills, Paul Butterfield & Pee Wee Ellis. My First gig was with my Dad Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia when I was 17 years old

Who are your musical and non-musical influences? My Musical Influences are My Dad Merl Saunders, George Duke, Joe Sample, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clarke, Jaco, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten and Chick Rainey My Non Musical influences are Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Joe Montana, President Obama, Dr King, My Grandmother Lessie Talley and a few close relatives who kept me focused on music.

What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician? Romantic Warrior Return To Forever School Days Stanley Clarke

What song do you remember most from your childhood? Eleanor Rigby

What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far? To have made solo albums/CD’s that people want to hear my music. To be able to play music and have the audience cheer for what I play is the greatest feeling I can have. To know what I do moves a person is the best.

Tell me about your favorite performance in your career. Playing at the Atlantic Folk Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia with Buffy St Marie. There were people for as far as you could see. Playing my first solo show at Yoshi’s San Francisco hearing them say my name and walking up to the stage. It made me feel so good when they applauded for my music!!!!!

What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you? Practice to get it right and when you accept a gig whether its 5 dollars or 5000 dollars play 150%....

What's new in the recording of your music? How has your music changed over the years? I am able to record remotely as I always have my laptop with me. I have learned how to produce my music so that it always sounds like me. Technology has changed so I am able to assemble a song a lot easier digitally as opposed to recording to tape. Digitally I am able to fix things a lot easier and faster.

What inspires you to write the music you write? What made you want to play the instrument you play? My songwriting comes from my heart and the way I feel about what I am writing a song about. If it’s a jazz tune the mood has to be right. If it’s a ballad I think about falling in Love and how I felt. I play the bass because I heard these 2 bass players play and the way they played made me love the bass. Anthony Davis who was playing with Walter Hawkins and Lee Miles who was playing with Miles Davis. I was singing a song for my Dad and Lee was on bass. It was not long after I had spent a month in the studio listening to Anthony. I was moved by how much the bass moved the song and I was hooked...

How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past? Do you feel like you are continuing to grow musically? My latest Cd All About Love is my best solo CD. It shows how I have grown as a bass player and songwriter. With Social media and you tube I see so much music that I am growing musically all the time. I listen to a lot of music also and I have my go to music. I really like George Duke and Joe Sample and my Dad.

If you could play anywhere or with anyone in the world, where or with whom would it be? I want to play in Corsica France and play my music. So many people liked the way I played and I had such a good time I want to return to Corsica.

How does music affect you and the world around you?

I Romance the bass as I romance Life. Smoothly. Music makes the world go round and can make a gloomy day seem bright. Music can make a blind man talk about seeing again.

If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be? I wish the music streaming services would pay the songwriters a fair share. I shouldn’t have 2 million streams on a song and have only 25 dollars to show for it.

What are your biggest obstacles as a musician? Getting my music heard by the masses. Fighting radio to get my music heard. Because of Covid returning to touring has been challenging.

What strengths do you have that you believe make you a great musician? I am a good listener and I work well with people. I make others music sound better when I am producing. I am focused on all of my strengths and use them to make songs better, the gig better and my producing better.

Do you have any weaknesses that you're actively working to improve on? I am working on improving my sight-reading. I am also working on my phrasing while soloing.

Describe your favorite and or least favorite part about being a musician.

Making people smile while they listen and making a sad face turn to happy. Making someone’s soul feel what I feel is a great feeling.

Do you have any anxiety about performing live? Do you like to perform or do you prefer to record in a studio? I love to perform live. I love the studio to. I like the perfection it takes to make a great track.

What do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why? I don’t know enough about online Music Sharing because I am always working. I give cd’s away for free to make someone smile or because they can’t afford my CD.

Describe your creative process when you write new music. I grab my bass or sit at the piano and let what’s in my heart come through my fingers. Once I have something I really like I expand on that and keep expanding until I have a complete song. Some songs I write on bass and some I write on the piano.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself I love Sailing and being on the water. I think it is so peaceful. I do like driving a speedboat every once in while but I really like Sailing... I also like hanging with my 16 Grandkids and 3 great grandkids.

Other than being a musician, what was your dream job growing up? Are you currently in that same field today? I wanted to play football. No I am not in that field today.

Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry

Stay focused on the prize and put in the time to make you playing and project the best it can be.

What are your interests outside of music? I like watching sports and traveling to great places. I love being around water and going on walks. I also like riding my bike.

How do you promote your band and shows? Still working on this but I use social media, radio and want to use TV.

What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc. Visit my Website or visit my social media pages on FB (Tony Saunders Bassist/producer), Twitter @saundersbass, Instagram@saundersbass

Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums? My New CD ALL ABOUT LOVE is available. I also play with Keystone Revisited and The Noteworthy Band. Lots of new stuff with both of those bands...Tony Saunders has just released on Baja/TSR Records the new single Highway 5 which is available everywhere including my store on my website.

Are you available for private parties? If so, how would someone contact you about booking? Yes you can contact Gina McCain at 703.930.4594

What's next for your band?

For my solo career Tony Saunders just played at the Balcones Jazz festival in San Antonio and the golden Gate jazz Festival in San Francisco. I also play with Keystone Revisited that is a tribute to my Dad Merl Saunders/Jerry Garcia and the music the made on a record Live at Keystone 49 years ago. I also have the Noteworthy band, which is a house band at the Blue Note Napa. Lastly, the TMJ trio, which plays iconic, rock tunes and other music.

What is your favorite tag line? I romance the bass like I romance Life smoothly.

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