Carl Saunders, Jazz Trumpet – Carl Saunders

Carl Saunders, Jazz Trumpet – Carl Saunders

Label: Summit Records

Release date: Feb 2020

Catalog number: 761


01 Recordame
comp: Joe Henderson
02 All The Things You Are
comp: Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II
03 Say What
comp: Carl Saunders
04 Sail Away
comp: Tom Harrell
05 I Thought About You
comp: Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer
06 Flim Flam
comp: Carl Saunders
07 Patience
comp: Carl Saunders
08 Cherokee
comp: Ray Noble
09 Tofu or Not Tofu
comp: Carl Saunders
10 Dusk and Dawn
comp: Carl Saunders
11 Pick Yourself Up
comp: Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields
12 Walking on Air
comp: Carl Saunders

Carl Saunders, Jazz Trumpet” is a blend of Jazz standards, American songbook standards and originals which could be referred to as future “New Jazz Standards” featuring the great and legendary Joe Labarbera on drums, the great and legendary bassist Chuck Berghofer and the young, new and brilliant pianist Josh Nelson. 

Composers: Carl Saunders, Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II, Tom Harrell, Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer, Ray Noble, Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields

Carl Saunders is widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz trumpet players in the world but it often surprises people to find that he is also a prolific composer who has written hundreds of original compositions.

Saunders began as a young man – in 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 and Benny Goodman. He was soon playing lead trumpet with Bill Holman’s Orchestra. Saunders has also worked with John Williams and the big bands of Bob Florence, Johnny Mandel, Gerald Wilson, and the Phil Norman Tentet.

Nelson has performed with some of the most respected names in jazz, including Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Benny Golson, John Clayton and Peter Erskine.

Berghofer’s incredible career includes recording with Nancy Sinatra in “These Boots Are Made For Walkin”. He also recorded with Frank Sinatra many others.

Performer on hundreds of recording, LaBarbera is best known for his recordings and live performances with the trio of pianist Bill Evans in the final years of Evans’s career.



Maybe you’ve never heard of Carl Saunders; it’s true that most of his long career has been spent as a sideman — though, granted, to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Harry James, and Benny freaking Goodman. And maybe you think Jazz Trumpet is a boring album title. OK, fair enough. But here’s the thing: this boringly-titled album by a guy you’ve never heard of is one of the best straight-ahead jazz albums you’re going to hear this year. Leading a quartet that includes legendary drummer Joe LaBarbera and bassist Chuck Berghofer alongside up-and-coming pianist Josh Nelson, Saunders takes us on a journey through the American Songbook with stops along the way for his own outstanding original compositions, always swinging hard and playing with a soft, golden tone. His arrangements are worth noting as well: he multitracks himself in several places, such as on the shout chorus to “Recordame” and the head to his own “Say What,” a straightforward blues on which he plays a startlingly complex solo. He makes tasteful use of the Harmon mute on “I Thought about You,” and switches appropriately to flugelhorn on the Tom Harrell composition “Sail Away.” Everywhere the playing is warm and the ensemble has that magical combination of tightness and looseness that marks a great jazz combo. Highly recommended to all libraries.
-Rick Anderson, CD HotList: New Releases for Libraries


Septuagenarian trumpeter Carl Saunders, whose horn served and enhanced the music of Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and numerous other icons, has been a steady presence on the Summit Records imprint. Whether exploring rare Bill Holman charts or crafting a program with a patriotic shine, acting as a featured guest with the Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra, adding some signature zest to the Phil Norman Tentet’s material, or offering up his compositions for an ongoing songbook project with heavy-duty leader-participants like Roger Kellaway and Larry Koonse, Saunders has remained a central figure in the label’s catalog. Now, with the arrival of this plainly titled date, he adds to that list with a fairly straightforward set.

Leading an A-list quartet rounded out with pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera, Saunders designs a well-mixed collection of classics and originals that pleases without pushing the envelope or resorting to gimmickry. These four need no tricks to sell anything. For them, it’s simply about the music, good time(s) and great taste. Making an energetic entrance with Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” Saunders and company make clear that they mean business. Four other wholly familiar nuggets—a joyful “All The Things You Are” with La Barbera trading in good spirits, the solidly swinging “I Thought About You” with a muted Saunders charming his way through the changes, a reasonably-paced “Cherokee” bookended by its flowing bridge, and the delightful “Pick Yourself Up”—spread additional good cheer.

With the exception of the appearance of trumpeter Tom Harrell’s “Sail Away”—a cool-headed, bossa-esque beauty that’s become a latter-day standard—everything else remaining in the set comes from Saunders’ fertile pen. From the blues, spied in sly fashion on “Say What,” to quiet charms, packaged in balladic dressings on “Patience,” to light-touch bop, given over through “Tofu Or Not Tofu,” he makes his mark as a composer with an ear for quality melodies and structural nuance(s). Putting that warm, almost flugelhorn-like trumpet sound to good use, and encouraging his band mates to add their gifts to the music, Saunders delivers a record that’s really all smiles. It’s far too easy to fall for Jazz Trumpet.

– Dan Bilawsky for



A Kenton alum that settled in Vegas for 20 years giving him the chance to play with everyone before pulling up stakes to hit the road again and continue to play with everyone, if you don’t know his name or sound, it’s time you get hip to this pro. With the contemporary history of jazz at his finger tips and some of the best educations money can’t buy, this is a jazzbo that deserves a load of love and celebration for playing that’s still hip and sharp. Killer stuff.

-CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher – Midwest Record



Classy and classically swinging jazz is delivered by veteran trumpetmeister Carl Saunders along with fellow Angelenos Josh Nelson/p, Chuck Berghofer/b and Joe LaBarbera/dr. All four gents are the epitome of what’s best about the LA jazz scene, with Saunders’ sweet Kenny Dorham-inspired horn cruising through a mix of standards and originals. He’s clear and articulate on the sizzling “Recordame” and swaggers on his own bluesy “Say What”. He gives a Miles-muted feel on the nifty read of “I Thought About You” and nifty on they cozy “Pick Yourself Up”. Nelson is a hip swinger throughout, lyurical as all get out on “Tofu Or Not Tofu” and romantic during “Flim Flam” as LaBarbera uses his brushes with style on a sleek “All The Things  You Are” and is kinetic on the post bopper “Flim Flam”. These guys are of the generation when swing was in the dna, and it comes out in wonderful spades on this easy to love session.

-George Harris for Jazz Weekly



Sometimes one just needs to hear some straight ahead bebop.

Most Los Angeles jazz followers are well aware of the brilliance of trumpeter Carl Saunders although those who live outside of Southern California may have overlooked him. Jazz Trumpet shows what they might have missed.

Saunders, a virtuoso who has a very appealing style that often features endless breaths filled with sparkling notes, has the ability to throw in surprising high notes quite quietly as a natural part of his solos. Jazz Trumpet finds him joined by pianist Josh Nelson (an up-and-coming giant), bassist Chuck Berghofer, and drummer Joe Labarbera. While Nelson takes many outstanding solos of his own (his improvisation on “Flim Flam” is particularly notable), and Berghofer and Labarbera are in fine form, the focus is primarily on Saunders. He is showcased on six of his originals and six jazz standards.

From the start of the opener, Joe Henderson’s “Recordame,” it is obvious that this is a classic album. Saunders, who is 77 but sounds 30 years younger, plays a long solo filled with creative ideas while swinging all the way. The same can be said for his playing on such numbers as “All The Things You Are,” his original blues “Say What,” “I Thought About You” (which he takes muted at a medium-tempo pace), and “Pick Yourself Up.” Saunders revives Tom Harrell’s “Sail Away,” is thoughtful on his own ballad “Patience,” and sounds effortless on his tongue-twisting “Tofu Or Not Tofu.”

There are quite a few talented trumpeters on the jazz scene today but very few on Carl Saunders’ level. For proof of that statement, listen closely to his Jazz Trumpet (available from, one of the finest jazz recordings released this year.

-Scott Yanow for LA Jazz Scene



n the March/April issue of Jersey Jazz, I reviewed a series of albums featuring compositions written by the superb jazz trumpeter CARL SAUNDERS.  Saunders did not play on any of these discs.  Carl Saunders, Jazz Trumpet (Summit – 761) fills in that void.  He is joined by pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe Labarbera for a twelve-song program with six of his originals interspersed with jazz and pop standards including “Recordame, “All the Things You Are,” “Sail Away,” “I Thought About You,” “Cherokee” and “Pick Yourself Up.”  Saunders is at heart a bebopper with an unrelenting sense of swing.  The empathetic rhythm section provides the perfect bed for his explorations, and Nelson’s occasional solo interludes match the intensity of Saunders.  You can always be assured that some of the Saunders originals will have clever titles.  Here we have “Tofu or Not to Tofu” and “Dusk and Dawn,” inspired by the harmonies that he heard Joe Henderson play on his take on “Night and Day.”  With Saunders you expect intensity, hard swinging, imagination and humor.  They are all present here!

-Joseph Lang for Jersey Jazz



Carl Saunders smashes on the scene with the familiar Joe Henderson tune, “Recorda-me.” Supported by an all-star, West Coast trio, including Josh Nelson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums. It’s the first track on this CD and brightly introduces us to each player. On elaborate solos, each instrumentalist gives us a clear view of their individual talents. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear other trumpets harmonizing with the Saunders lead trumpet. Nothing was noted in the liner notes about other horn players, so I opened the CD cover to see who else was in the studio. It’s actually Carl overdubbing with himself. Of course, he would be thinking harmonically. Carl Saunders spent years with some of the most highly praised big bands on the jazz scene including his early years playing with Harry James (1961-62), later, with Maynard Ferguson, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Once Saunders settled into the Las Vegas scene, he found himself hired by a number of show bands. You could hear his in-demand lead trumpet with legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and even Frank Sinatra. He was adaptable enough to also tour with singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, as lead trumpeter and additionally performed with Robert Goulet.

Carl Saunders’ tone and timing makes every familiar jazz composition on this album become reinvented. His ability to swing so fluidly is perhaps a nod to his drum chops. As a youthful musician, he spent part of 1962 through ‘63 touring with Bobby Sherwood’s group and playing drums. Ultimately, trumpet became his instrument of choice. It’s always a joy hearing Carl Saunders play. Once you listen to how he and his group dance through “I thought About You,” with a lively and spontaneous solo by Josh Nelson on piano and Joe Labarbera shining as he trades ‘fours’ with the band on his trap drums.

Not only is Saunders a magnificent and creative player, he is additionally a master composer and has written hundreds of original songs. He shares several with us during this production. “Flim Flam” is one of his originals and it moves at a moderate, but inspired pace. The melody is catchy, with the changes in the chord progressions keeping everyone on their toes, especially on the bridge. His long, legato lines stretch like spandex across the changes and I wonder how he’s able to store up that much breath control. His execution is flawless and beautiful. Another composition by Saunders is the only ballad on this album of fine music. Titled, “Patience,” it settles the listeners down, after six songs that were played speedily and with intense energy. Even on this lovely ballad, Saunders manages to infuse it with a double time solo that lifts and propels the song to higher heights. Nelson, on piano, has an excellent way of making each song his own, when interpreting them. His talents shine throughout. Another favorite is the Saunders composition, “Tofu or Not Tofu.” He uses his trumpet overdub technique on this tune also and it enhances the strong melody.

This is an album I will play over and over again. It embraces the straight-ahead, bebop flavored jazz that I love so much and spotlights the excellence of each musician in a stunning way.

-Dee Dee McNeil for Musicalmemoirs