This brief listing in Russ Wilson's Jazz column in the Oakland Tribune of July 28, 1968, gives an insight into Saunders true breadth, and serves as a reminder to one of the forgotten markets of sixties music. The notice says
Organist Merl Saunders' trio is on a Far Eastern tour that has included Bangkok, Manila and Tokyo, where the group now is playing club and TV engagements.While I would love to know more about this tour, its a reminder that up to 500,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam, which meant that at any given time a lot of soldiers were in Manila, Bangkok and Tokyo. The perennial presence of American soldiers had in turn given Asian nations a taste of American music, too, so there were many opportunities to tour Asia. Many groups toured Vietnam, too, under some quite weird conditions (rock bands weren't allowed to play The Animals song "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place").
Merl Saunders was interviewed many times, but of course almost all those interviews were Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, so I don't recall ever hearing about a Far Eastern tour. Whether Merl's trio played venues that attracted servicemen or locals, it had to be an odd experience to play American music in Asia at the height of the Cold War. I assume Merl's trio was a standard organ combo, with Merl on organ, a drummer and either a guitarist or sax player, but I don't even know that much. It certainly puts playing the Keystone Berkeley with a bunch of hippies in a different light.