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In Memoriam: Tom Saunders


Cornetist Tom (Thomas) Saunders passed away February 13 at age 71. He was born in Detroit and started playing cornet in his brother’s band at age 10 and by 13 he was leading his own group. His mentor was Wild Bill Davison who he met in 1964 and toured Europe with a few years later. Saunders played his muted cornet when Davison was on his death bed in 1989, according to a Detroit Free Press interview with Mark Stryker.

He toured with another famed figure in the world of Dixieland, trombonist Pee Wee Hunt, after leaving the Navy in 1959. Saunders is widely known for leading the Surfside Six for extended engagements, first at the Dearborn Townhouse in the late sixties and at the Presidential Inn (later Holiday Inn) in Southgate for twelve years starting in January, 1972. For the last twenty years or more his Detroit All Stars played two days a month at Marge’s in Grosse Pointe Park, not far from his home.

I remember Saunders as a fiery, melodic, and swinging cornetist who loved to tell jokes. He served on the Board of the Detroit Federation of Musicians, Local 5 and played a role in the birth of the Michigan Jazz Festival, serving on its board until his passing. Festival Director Midge Ellis remembers him as “one of the best cornet players I have ever heard. He established a great rapport with his audience. Last June he played our Father’s Day Brunch and I held my breath most of the concert, because you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth! He was always the life of the party and we will miss him terribly.”

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