SAN FRANCISCO – Merl Saunders, a jazz and rock keyboardist who collaborated with iconic acts including Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead, has died. He was 74.
Saunders died Friday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco of complications due to a stroke, said his son, Merl Saunders Jr.
"We loved him very much — and we know that you, his fans, did too," his family said in a statement posted on Saunders' Web site. "He was a special man, a beautiful companion, father, grandfather, and family patriarch, and the proof of that spirit is in the way you've reached out to us at his passing."
Born in San Mateo, Calif., Saunders attended high school with Johnny Mathis in San Francisco. One of Saunders' very first performances was a high school event with Mathis, Saunders Jr. said.
Some of Saunders' most famous music was made in the 1960s and 1970s when he teamed up with the Grateful Dead's lead guitarist and singer, Jerry Garcia. The Saunders-Garcia Band recorded two records in the 1970s and the two would play together on an array of projects until Garcia's death in 1995.
In 1990 Saunders and Garcia released the album "Blues from the Rainforest" that achieved success on the new age music charts.
Saunders is survived by his longtime companion, his two sons and a daughter.