Born: September 25, 1962 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
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.”
Recalling the time he spent with Betty Carter describes her as “a wonderful songstress, great mentor, and nurturer who instills confidence.” And in Haynes he found a master timekeeper who can teach you when to jump and when not to. “He’s like a cat in the jungle,” Handy notes. “He judges very carefully, that moment when he can capture an audience, then at just the right time he pounces!”
Handy has also contributed a Mingus-like brash and confidence tone to the Mingus Dynasty--an association which led to another important connection. !I was playing with Mingus Dynasty at the Bottom Line when I first met Bill Cosby,” Handy recounts. “He came up and introduced himself and said that he was going to call me. I thought 'yeah, right.’”
Cosby did call Handy, and invited him to be the featured artist on the recording of the theme for the “Cosby Show” for the 1989-90 season. Handy would also go on to score, produce and perform the music for the 1994-95 season of “The Cosby Mysteries”. It wasn’t long after the lesson of his New York apprenticeship that Handy made his recording debut as a leader. In 1992 the Arabesque label released “Split Second Timing,” an album named after something Handy heard onstage nightly during his tenure in Art Blakey’s band in 1989. “Blakey used to sasy the music came ‘from the creator to the artist, direct to you the audience with split-second timing.’” Recalled Handy.
Two years later in 1994, also for Arabesque, Handy recorded “Introducing Three For All + One.” Featuring the saxophonist primarily in trio with bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Ralph Peterson, “Three For All” was acclaimed by CD Review as “one of the leanest, meanest groups playing jazz.”
“What’s most dazzling about his second disc is his individuality,” wrote Norman Weinstein for the Boston Phoenix. “Handy soars. He transforms ‘Spinning Wheel’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears into cubist calliope music. He empties the sappy sentimentality out of standards by Gordon Jenkins and Marvin Hamlisch, replacing them with taut passion. Already a technical master in his 20s, he has, unlike many of his generation, decided that what comes after technique is haunting communication.”
Another significant phase in Handy’s career was the work he began in the mid-80’s with Haitian and salsa bands. “Those bands were killing rhythmically,” exclaimed Handy. “The rhythms would loop over each other creating a texture and soundscape that’s very sophisticated and funky. The artists in these bands also paid special attention to phrasing and playing together, and these are elements that are common to good musicianship in any idiom.”
Born in Oakland, California on September 25, 1962, Handy played guitar, trombone, and piano before he fell in love with the saxophone after hearing Dexter Gordon on the radio. “I was captivated by the deepness and the richness, the robustness of Gordon’s tone,” says Handy. “The directness of his ideas also impressed me.”
After participating in the renowned Berkeley High School jazz program--which also produced David Murray, Peter Apfelbaum, Benny Green, and Joshua Redman--Handy earned the highly competitive Charlie Parker Scholarship award which allowed him to study at North Texas State University. He attended North Texas for two and a half years, majoring in psychology and playing in the school’s prestigious One O’Clock Lab Band.
More recently, Handy appeared on two recordings for the “Chartbusters,” a band comprised of Handy, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and drummer Idris Muhammad. Released in 1995 on the NYC label, the group’s first disc, the critically acclaimed “Chartbusters! Volume 1,” paid homage to the Blue Note records of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. “Mating Cal,” the groups second album which was co-produced by Handy, has been released by Prestige. In the fall of 1996, Handy can be seen on the big screen in the Robert Altman film titled “Kansan City,” portraying a character based on the late Coleman Hawkins. Also in 1996, Handy can be seen touring with one of the most prominent voices in modern jazz--pianist Herbie Hancock.
“Herbie is perfection personified,” Handy observes. “He is one of the most modern cats around and has all the weaponry. One of my favorite solos by him is featured on ‘Seven Steps To Heaven.’ On that tune, he plays two of the most perfect choruses in jazz history--stacking right up there with Charlie Parker. When I hear his compositions, I’m reminded that despite all the negativity in the world, all of humanity does share emotions like joy and hope. Herbie’s music unites people. He’s definitely one of my heroes and to tour with him is like a dream come true.”
Handy will undoubtedly fulfill many more dreams, as he strives to contribute his own perfect choruses to jazz history.
...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.
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
Craig Handy, Flow (Sirocco, 2000)
Craig Handy, Reflections in Change (Sirocco, 1999)
Craig Handy, Introducing Three For All + One (Arabesque, 1993)
Craig Handy, Split Second Timing, (Arabesque Records, 1992)
The Cookers, Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010)
The John Hicks Legacy Band, Mind Wine (Savant, 2010)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note Records, 2010)
Mingus Big Band, Live at Jazz Standard (Jazz Workshop, 2010)
Kirk Lightsey, Lightsey To Gladden (Criss Cross, 2009)
Towner Galaher, Courageous Hearts (Self Produced, 2008)
Charles Tolliver Big Band, With Love (Blue Note, 2007)
Mingus Big Band, Live in Tokyo (Sunnyside, 2006)
David Weiss, The Mirror (Fresh Sound, 2004)
John Scofield Band, Up All Night (Verve, 2003)
Mingus Big Band, Tonight at Noon (Dreyfus, 2002)
Freddie Hubbard, New Colors (Hip Bop, 2001)
David Weiss, Breathing Room (Fresh Sound, 2001)
Mingus Big Band, The Essential Mingus Big Band (Dreyfus, 2001)
New Jazz Composers Octet, Walkin' The Line (Fresh Sound, 2000)
Ray Drummond, 1-2-3-4 (Arabesque, 1999)
Mingus Big Band, Blues & Politics (Dreyfus, 1999)
New York Connexion, Along Came Jones (Sirocco, 1999)
Bob Belden Ensemble, La Cigale (Sunnyside, 1998)
Mingus Big Band, Que Viva Mingus (Dreyfus, 1998)
Kansas City: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Verve, 1996)
Charles Sullivan, Kamau (Arabesque, 1996)
The Chartbusters, Mating Call (Prestige, 1995)
The Charbusters, Charbusters! (NYC Records, 1995)
Essence All Stars, Primal Blue (Hip Bop, 1995)
Grand Central, Tenor Conclave (Evidence, 1995)
Mingus Big Band, Gunslinging Birds (Dreyfus, 1995)
Roy Haynes, Homecoming (Dreyfus, 1994)
Ray Drummond, Excursion (Arabesque, 1993)
Mingus Big Band, Nostalgia In Times Square (Dreyfus, 1993)
Cecil Brooks III, Neck Peckin' Jammie (Muse, 1993)
Giovanni Hidalgo, Worldwide (RMM, 1993)
Roy Haynes, When It's Haynes, It Roars (Dreyfus, 1992)
Mingus Dynasty, Next Generation Performs Charles Mingus
Brand New Compositions (Columbia, 1991)
Stephen Scott, Something to Consider (Polygram, 1991)
Betty Carter, Droppin' Things (Verve, 1990)
Bob Belden Ensemble, Treasure Island (Sunnyside, 1990)
Cecil Brooks III, Hangin' with Smooth (Muse, 1990)
Abdullah Ibrahim, Mindif (Enja, 1988)
Mingus Dynasty, Mingus' Sound of Love (Soul Note, 1987)
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