Theo Saunders

Theo (Ted) Saunders was born and raised on the island of  Manhattan.  His Russian heritage is masked by his name, which was legally changed along with the rest of his family so that his father, Nicholas, could get work as an actor during the Communist paranoia era of the 1950’s, which makes more sense when you know that he was the only actor in SAG/AFTRA who could speak fluently in both languages without a trace of an accent in either.  He comes from a family whose theatre and musical roots go back four generations.  His mother, Gedda, was pregnant with Theo when she was in Carousel on Broadway and, as a young teenager, he regularly provided piano accompaniment for her Broadway Show auditions.  He attended the High School of Performing Arts (along with fellow jazzers George Cables, Bob Moses, and Ray Maldanado) where he got the jazz bug and spent several years at New York University before leaving to pursue his jazz calling.  Besides working in NYC,  he also lived and worked in Boston, Montreal, and Cincinnati.  He was professionally known as Teddy or Ted Saunders until 1985 when he decided to use the name Theo because it felt closer to his European/Russian heritage. 

He first moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and returned to NYC in 1980.  He spent 5 years there before permanently moving back to Southern California in 1985.


Highlights of his career include:  Performing at the Village Vanguard for a week in 1969 with guitarist Sonny Greenwich,  Jimmy Garrison, and Jack DeJohnette….Playing electric piano and clavinet on the Bill Evans/George Russell album,  “Living Time” on Columbia Records in 1971….. one of the first members of saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi’s group, Con Brio in the early 70’s….a member of John Klemmer’s group that opened for the first national tour of the VSOP band in 1978 (including a concert at Avery Fisher Hall)…. a member of Ted Curson’s group that played Monday nights at Sweet Basil for a year in the early 80’s……first gig in Los Angeles- a three month stint with Willie Bobo in 1974……six national tours with Freddie Hubbard between 1981-95…..European tour and Japanese tour with Carla Bley’s band in 1983-84 and a DVD, “Live at The Montreal Jazz Festival” ( a band that included Joe Lovano,  Steve Slagle, Steve Swallow, and Victor Lewis)……being a member of Bob Brookmeyer’s Quartet in Los Angeles from 1979-80 and touring nationally as well as in the Netherlands…Musical Director for 3 contemporary operas by composer Noa Ain  ("Trio" at the Berkshire Music Festival, first american music theater festival in Philadelphia, Carnegie Hall and virginia tech University, "The Outcast" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Merkin Hall, and the Houston Grand Opera, "Verse of Fortune", lyric by christian holder and still in development),  member of Mike Stern’s group that played regularly at The 55 Bar in Soho from 1981-83….a number of gigs with Sonny Fortune in NYC from 1981-84 and a week with his band at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles in 2009…...first recording as a leader- The Teddy Saunders Sextet, “Sueblue” on Discovery Records in 1978…..second recording as a leader- The Theo Saunders Trio, “Three For All” on Blue Chip Jazz….my sixth recording as a leader- Theo Saunders and Intergenearation, “When The Saints Go Out” on Arabesque Records…my collaboration with George Herms at The Redcat Theatre in Los Angeles in 2011 and the recording it led to, which is my latest -"Jassemblage"......Performance collaborations with poet David Meltzer at the Hammer and Getty Museums in Los Angeles and the bird and Beckett book store in San francisco..... a member of bassist Henry Franklin’s group for the last decade with seven recordings…..a member of Bobby Matos’ Afro-Latin Ensemble for the last decade with six recordings…..a member of Azar Lawrence’s west coast band for the last three years, including a 2011 appearance at the Inntone Jazz Festival in Austria and at the Porgy and Bess club in Vienna and an eleven month residence at the RG Club in Venice, CA (2014) along with henry franklin and alphonse mouzon and many special guests. He recently (2016) toured with saxophonist Sonny Fortune as a member of a quartet that included Henry Franklin on bass and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums.  The tour included gigs at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, CA,  The Jazz Alley in Seattle, and The Portland Jazz Festival......a member of the jazz tap ensemble performing with iconic hoofers like Jimmy Slyde, Harold Nicholas, and gregory hines.....took part in the 45th anniversary celebration of the Keystone Korner, hosted by founder Todd Barkan......performed in Dakar, Senegal with the Azar lawrence Quartet, My seventh recording as a leader...."Trane Stories" with Dwight Trible, Teodross Avery, Henry Franklin, and Marvin "Smitty" Smith...John Coltrane's music with lyric and spoken word.

Credits and Connections

Theo (Ted) Saunders, a native New Yorker, has lived in California since 1985, but his musical career remains international in scope. Saunders' musical odyssey has taken him to Five continents and more than twenty-Five countries.
He has performed in many of the world's most prestigious jazz festivals, concert halls and night clubs, with distinguished jazz artists including:
Freddie Hubbard, Carla Bley, Charles Lloyd, Bob Brookmeyer, Sonny Fortune, Azar Lawrence, John Klemmer, Buddy Collette, Eddie Harris,Ted Curson, James Moody, Bobby Hutcherson, Teddy Edwards, Jack Dejohnette, Joe Lovano, Jimmy Garrison, Pharoah Sanders, Harold Land, John Scofield, Slam Stewart, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Jon Lucien, Reggie Workman, Curtis Fuller, Rashied Ali, Mike Stern, Benny Powell, Valery Ponomarev, David Schnitter, Hiram Bullock,  Chris Conners, Morgana King,  Roseanna Vitro, David "Fathead" Newman, J.R. Montrose, Brew Moore, Sonny Greenwich, Mark Egan, Wilbur Ware , Steve Khan, Henry Franklin, Carl Burnett, Jack Wilkins, Steve Slagle, Dennis Irwin, Roy McCurdy, Eddie Gomez, Cecil McBee, Rick Laird, Herschel Dwellingham, John Heard, Al Grey, Barbara Morrison, Lanny Morgan, Mike Mantler,  Horacee Arnold, Jerry Bergonzi, Harvey Wainapel, Herbie Lewis, Sal Marquez, Hadley Caliman, Putter Smith, Gary Foster, Beaver Harris, Alphonse Mouzon, Benn Clatworthy, Dick Berk, Richie Cole, Garnett Brown, Dwight Trible, Justo Almario, Kamasi Washington,  Mike Richmond, Bob Sheppard, Bennie Maupin, Dave Binney, Bobby Bradford, Kamasi Washington, Frank Morgan, Harvie Swartz, Tierney Sutton, Judi Silvano, Roberta Gambarini, Chip White, Phil Grenadier, Tom Harrell, Rich Perry, Clifford Jarvis, Carl Allen, Phil Ranelin, Oscar Brashear,  Pat Britt, Tony Dumas, Steve Swallow, Victor Lewis, John Abercrombie, Bruce Ditmas,  Joe Diorio, J.R. Mitchell, Calvin Hill, Charles Owens, Richard Reid, , Adam Rodgers, John B. Williams, Ed Neumeister, Terrell Stafford, Wycliffe Gordon, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles, Dave Stryker, Steve Marcus, Don Menza, Gilbert Castellanos,  Bill Watrous, Mon David, George Bohanon, Gary Bartz, Charles Mcpherson, Kenneth Nash, Ray Drummond, Akira Tana, Juini Booth, Calvin Keys, Mel Martin, Ralph Moore, Teodross Avery

His diverse musical activities have included musical director for opera and dance productions, for cabaret singers, and international musical theatre. He has played with many well known Latin, R&B, and rock artists, including Claudio Roditi, Victor Brasil, Ray Mantilla, Willie Bobo, Bobby Matos, Raul De Souza, Ray Armando,Claudio Caribe, Guillerme Franco, Bobby Rodriguez, Gladys Knight, Four Tops, Elephants Memory, and is a former member (Piano) of the Jazz Tap Ensemble. He also has performed in collaboration with poet David Meltzer and assemblage artist George Herms.

As a composer, Theo has numerous jazz & rock compositions to his credit as well as original scores for dance, theatre, radio and multimedia production. His compositions have recently been recorded by Henry Franklin, Ray Armando, Benn Clatworthy, Bobby Matos, and Bruce Paulson. His biographical sketch appears, in "People in Jazz-Jazz keyboard improvisors of the 19th and 20th centuries" by Bill Lee.

Major Festivals, Concert Halls and Clubs
JVC Jazz Festival - NYC

Antibes Jazz Festival - Juan-Les-Pin, France

NOS Jazz Festival - Amsterdam

North Sea Jazz Festival - Den Hague, The Netherlands

Sarasota Springs Jazz Festival - Sarasota Springs

Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal

Palais D"Europe - Le Touqet, France

Canada Jam II - Toronto, Canada

Montreaux Jazz Festival - Montreaux

Avery Fischer Hall - NYC

Carnegie Hall - NYC

Greek Theatre - Los Angeles

Riga Sports Palace - Latvia

Montmarte - Copenhagen

Metropol - Berlin

Village Vanguard - NYC

Sweet Basil - NYC

Ojai Jazz Festival - Ojai, CA

UCLA Jazz Festival

Santa Monica Jazz Festival

Santa Barbara Jazz Festival

Catalina's - Los Angeles

Jazz Bakery - Los Angeles

Sonoma Jazz Festival

San Jose Jazz Festival

New Haven Jazz Festival

Temecula Jazz Festival

Barranquilla Jazz Festival (Columbia, South America)

Medellin Jazz Festival (Columbia, South America)

Central Avenue Jazz Festival-Los Angeles

The World Stage - Los Angeles

Detroit Jazz Festival

Dakar-Goree Jazz Festival (Senegal)

Drew University Jazz Festival (Los Angeles)

Mayme Clayton Library and Museum (culver city, ca.)

Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center (NYC)

Blues Alley (Washington D.C)

Keystone Korner (Baltimore, Maryland)

Unterfahrt (Munich, Germany)

The Jazz Standard (NYC)


Musical Score for Waterside - Plexus Dance Theatre, Venture, CA.

Musical score for Vincent - A Passionate Journey Into The Life Of Van Gogh, a play by Leonard Nimoy.

Music for Chekhov Short Stories, a series for Public Radio.

Music for The Wood Demon, a Chekhov play produced by the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, CA.

Musical score for the Sequoia National Park Centennial Multimedia Presentation.

Original Music for Verse of Fortune, a musical theatre piece currently in development that is based on the life of Charles Baudelaire

Over One Hundred jazz & rock compositions.

Musical Director

Musical Director (MD) for the play Peace Child, produced in both the US & USSR.

MD for Trio, an opera by Noa Ain - performed at the Berkshire Music Festival; first American Music Theatre Festival, Philadelphia; and at Carnegie Hall.

MD for The Outcast, an opera by Noa Ain, performed at Merkin Hall, NYC, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Houston Grand Opera.

MD for Verse of Fortune by Christian Holder and Noa Ain-Musical Theater based on the life and poetry of Charles Baudelaire....currently in development.

MD for singer-actress Lanie Kazan.