Merl Saunders Hammond B3 player Merl Saunders has recorded with numerous renowned artists since the early '70s and has led many of his own dates in a variety of genres from jazz to blues to new age to rock. Born on Valentine's Day, 1934 in San Mateo, CA, Saunders began learning to play the piano at the age of 10. He was a classmate and bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school. Saunders decided on music as a profession after seeing how much fun was had by audience and performers alike at concerts by such musicians as Cab Calloway. He apprenticed early on with Jimmy Smith for a time, and attended various music schools.