Craig Handy

Primary Instrument: Saxophone

Born: September 25, 1962    

Craig Handy

From the time he arrived in New York at age 23 in 1986, saxophonist Craig Handy was acknowledged as a musician with big, burly tenor sound, sharp wit, and above all, individuality. Over the next few years he would breath life into those accolades through a number of important associations: holding his own on the front line of legendary bebop drummer Roy Haynes’ band, working with South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and weaving sensuous obbligati behind Betty Carter on the kind of tunes most young artist are presumed not to understand.

Handy cites each experience as having a profound impact on his development. “Working with Ibrahim taught me a lot about thematic development,” states the saxophonist. “He lays down simple melodies that build on each other, and listening to his compositions remind me of great architecture.”...
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“...hard bop icon”

—Scott Fugate, Jazz Times


“[Dee Dee] Bridgewater... was clearly having a great time. That was fully evident by the end of “You've Changed,” which had featured her hot call-and-response session with brilliant saxophonist Craig Handy. Handy ended the song with a lick that left drummer Greg Hutchinson literally slack-jawed. And it got Bridgewater really fired up. She bowed toward Handy and began growling and howling like a dog....Handy...also played some stratospheric flute.”

—Tad Dickens, Roanoke Times


“...a harmonically daring soloist...”

—Evan Haga, Jazz Times


“Mr. Handy has a forthright, authoritative tone, and he is steeped in mid-1960's jazz, from hard-bop's transfigured blues to John Coltrane's sheets of sound. His solos are assured and logical. He'll carry a sequence as far as it will go, then shift to another gambit, from steady eighth-notes to triplets, from quick runs to a thicker, buzzier tone that alludes to the swing era. He can bring out the tenderness in a ballad without irony; he can also turn a blues phrase into a sly chuckle.”


—Jon Pareles, New York Times



“Craig Handy takes two epic solos on the Weiss pieces, on soprano for “A Little Twist” and on alto for “Walkin' the Line.” They are grand yet concentrated soliloquies, full of heedless melodious ravings. Handy also contributes the single most memorable composition, “Abdullah's Demeanor,” an intense 11-minute slow burn over bassist Burno's repeated five-note ritual. Handy (on tenor) flails and tears at the restraints of patience imposed by his own song.”


—Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times


“Craig Handy is always exciting: he has humor, poise, a little outlandishness, and the intuitive power to jolt a solo into an unexpected area.”

—Ben Ratliff, New York Times


“...bitching single-handed woodwind solos...”

—John Murph, Jazz Times

“...[Handy] exhibited a combination of sensitivity and audacity that suggested a telepathic connection to [Dee Dee] Bridgewater, as he explored the timbral limits of the flute and saxophones in much the same way that she used her voice.”

—Stephen Holden, New York Times


“Saxophonist Craig Handy is a musician's musician. Those 'in the know' know about him, which is why he's been a first call player in New York for over two decades. He is a careful, thoughtful improviser—expansive and precise. His solos build on a rich knowledge of the tradition at the same time as they often set out for the edge, walk it, but never fall off. While he derives portions of his vocabulary from the 'Trane/Shorter axis, there is a shrewd depth and broadness to his playing.”

— Robert Dugan, All About Jazz, “Craig Handy: The Busiest Man in Jazz”


“...all grace and liquid ease..”

“[Handy's] solos cast the shadows of Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson over the brutalities of swing saxophone playing. His style is spare, allowing him to reach a good burn with just a few notes. He also likes to take his time with a figure, tossing it around until it ripens and splits apart and notes come falling out.”

—Peter Watrous, New York Times


“[Handy] possesses a lyrical imagination and an appetite for the dramatic.”

—John Fordham, The Guardian


“…Handy has the prettiest flute sound in jazz.”

—Robert R. Calder, All About Jazz


“Mr. Handy has always been an intelligent, deliberate soloist; over the last several years he has picked up the tempos some, and his improvisation was relentless in its invention and in its velocity.”

—Peter Watrous, New York Times


“One of the leanest, meanest groups playing jazz.”

CD Review


“What's most dazzling about his second disc is his individuality. Handy soars....Already a technical master in his 20s, he has, unlike many of his generation, decided that what comes after technique is haunting communication

—Norman Weinstein, Boston Phoenix


“What distingues Handy’s work is that, unlike dozen of his contemporaries he wastes no notes. He reveals in every solo an elegantly intelligent structure. And Handy always finds lyricism in the eye of a hurricane.”

—Thomas Conrad, CD Review

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Check out the amazing new Schagerl Saxophones out of Austria and designed by master brass-maker Keli Schagerl and master reed man Harry Sokal. The Model 66 (the horn I play) will soon be available in the US:

Please Sign Up or Log In to send your inquiry.

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