John Handy Biography/Discography


WHEREAS, John Handy is a world-renowned Jazz musician and teacher who has devoted his life to elevating the human spirit through music; and,

WHEREAS, John has performed in the world's greatest concert halls and has fans world-wide that he has captivated with his fiery and soulful saxophone style; and

WHEREAS, He personifies the jazz genre with great dignity and, as a resident of San Francisco since the age of 19, he has brought recognition to San Francisco and San Francisco State University through his glorious career; and,

WHEREAS, He has contributed to the musical education and appreciation of many fortunate students at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, among others; and,

WHEREAS, On the occasion of San Francisco State University's Centennial Celebration, John Handy has been honored with the initiation of The First Annual John Handy Jazz Festival , to be held August 26 - 29, 1999 at San Francisco State University; now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the City and County of San Francisco proclaims Saturday, August 28, 1999

John Handy Day
in San Francisco.


Leslie R. Katz
Tom Ammiano
Alicia Becerril
Sue Bierman
Amos Brown
Barbara Kaufman
Mark Leno
Gavin Newsom
Mabel Teng
Leland Yee

San Francisco Board of Supervisors

John Handy, Biography
John Handy has been honored with the Bill Graham Lifetime Achievement Award from the 1997 Bay Area Music Awards!. Having played professionally since he was fifteen, the saxophonist has worn coats of many cultures throughout his long, prolific career, changing them as often as a chameleon alters its hues.

John Handy was born in Dallas and moved to Oakland in 1948. As a teenager, he played around the Bay Area in blues bands led by Roy Hawkins, Pee Wee Crayton, Little Willie Littlefield, Jimmy McCracklin, Wild Willie Moore, and Dell Graham, and jazz artists such as Gerald Wilson, Teddy Edwards, and Frank Morgan. He made his recording debut in 1953 with Lowell Pulson . Although his musical approach changed after he heard Charlie Parker at San Francisco's Say When Club, the influence of such earlier saxophone favorites as Johnny Hodges, Louis Jordan, and Earl Bostic remained strong and contributed greatly to the development of his unique, searing style. Indeed, Handy is one of the few musicians who have come close to rivaling Bostic's awesome command of the instrument's upper registers.

Later, Handy secured a B. A. in Music from San Francisco State University, and has served as a music educator since 1968, teaching history and performance at a number of colleges, universities and special clinics - Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco State University among them.

Handy went on to compose and play classical pieces, performing "Concerto for Jazz Soloist and Orchestra" with the San Francisco Symphony in 1970, and in more recent years he has composed with the UC San Francisco orchestra.

After a stint in the Army, Handy headed for New York in 1958 and was soon hired by bassist Charles Mingus, who found the saxophonist's highly emotive style ideally suited to his alternately sweet and volatile music. Although Handy was a member of Mingus's band for less than a year, the association brought him a contract with Roulette Records. Because his distinctive approach didn't fit into either the prevailing East Coast or West Coast schools of the period, the company labeled Handy's music "No Coast Jazz."

Returning to San Francisco in 1962 to finish college, Handy stayed and has led a succession of groups ever since. The most successful was the one that featured violinist Michael White and Jerry Hahn. They were a sensation at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival and recorded several best-selling albums for Columbia. Indeed, Handy's performances of his own "Spanish Lady" and "If Only We Knew", the pinnacle notes of that Monterey Jazz Festival, earned Grammy nominations for both performance and composition.

John had another taste of stardom with his funk-vocal crossover hit "Hard Work" in 1976. In recent years, the saxophonist has toured and recorded with the Mingus Dynasty and Bebop and Beyond all-star groups, but he kept returning home to work with CLASS.
John Handy with Class

The classically trained violinists, Julie Carter, Tarika Lewis, and Sandi Poindexter not only play, but sing, sometimes simultaneously. After having performed around Northern California and at New York's Village Vanguard, John Handy with Class finally went into the studio to record their debut album for Milestone Records. The resulting Centerpiece is, in the best Handy tradition, decidedly different from any other jazz album in recent years. A collection of jazz, blues, and popular standards, in addition to Handy's delightful Louis Jordan-influenced "I Be Itchin' and Scratchin' (To Get You Out of My Life)" original, Centerpiece showcases his molten alto saxophone blended with the warm, sinewy violin tones of Class. Handy, who arranged all the selections, plays alto throughout, except on "Mood Indigo," where he picks up his first instrument, the clarinet, to offer a haunting tribute to the song's composer, Barney Bigard.

Yet Centerpiece is much more than an instrumental album. Class and Handy himself vocalize on most cuts and are joined by the resonant baritone of Buddy Conner on two. On "Summertime" and the title tune, CLASS sings and plays at the same time. "Singing is something that I think jazz players had better start doing a lot more of in order to survive and increase our audience," states Handy. "We always did until the Forties, then we all stopped. I'd really like to see more musicians try singing and develop their voices and really do something with it."

"They're a lot prettier than Mike White," Handy says jokingly of his three violinists. "I find the violin to be a very sensitive and expressive instrument capable of musical expressions that other instruments are not. I've discovered that there's a certain way to write for them to give them a saxophone sound."

Handy's association with the violin goes back to the mid-sixties when he led a high-energy group that featured violinist Michael White. Later, the saxophonist played with Indian violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam in an all-star multi-cultural band called Rainbow, which Handy and Ali Akbar Khan created in 1971. During a concert tour in 1981 he invited three musicians of the Music Ensemble of Benares to play with Rainbow: Pandit Prakash Maharaj (tabla), Shivanath Mishra (sitar) and Gunther Paust (tanpura). These musicians later came to form John Handy's Musical Dreamland, which has continued to tour, mainly in Europe and Japan for the past several years.

In addition to these groups, he has also become reacquainted with the legendary John Handy Quintet over the past two years, who had cut two albums in 1965-66. Making their debut at Yoshi's in Oakland in 1994, they have continued to perform throughout California.

In fact, as a tribute to the group and in response to extraordinary pressure from his fans, Koch Jazz has recently reorganized, digitally remastered, reproduced, and re-released John Handy's Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival recording from 1965.



John Handy Recordings
In the Vernacular
1959, Roulette Records

No Coast Jazz
1960, Roulette Records

1962, Roulette Records

Live at Monterey
1965, Columbia Records

John Handy
1966, Columbia Records

Second John Handy Album
1966, Columbia Records

Quote Unquote
1967, Roulette Records

New View
1967, Columbia Records

1968, Columbia Records

Karuna Supreme
1975, BASF

Hard Work
1976, Impulse Records

1977, Columbia Records

Where Go the Boats
1978, Warner Brothers

Excursion in Blue
1988, Harbor Records

Centerpiece ; with Class
(Julie Carter, Tarika Lewis and Sandi Poindexter)
1989, Milestone Records

Very First Recordings
1994, American Music

Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival
1996, Koch International

Live at Yoshi's
1996, Boulevard Records

Musical Dreamland
1996, Boulvard Records

Handy Dandy Man

John Handy Performances on Recordings by Other Artists

1959, Mingus, Charles,

1959, Mingus, Charles,
Blues and Roots

1959, Mingus, Charles,
Mingus Ah Um

1959, Mingus, Charles,
Mingus Dynasty

1964, Mingus, Charles,
Mingus at Monterey

1964, Mingus, Charles,
Right Now: Live at Jazz Workshop

1965, Great Moments in Jazz,
Great Moments in Jazz [Atlantic]

1971, Mingus, Charles,
Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife

1974, Mingus, Charles,
Mingus at Carnegie Hall

1979, Mingus, Charles,
Chair in the Sky

1980, Mingus Dynasty,
Chair in the Sky

1981, Subramaniam, L.,

1981, Stitt, Sonny,
Just in Case You Forgot How Bad

1988, Mingus, Charles,
Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billan

1990, Mingus, Charles,

1994, Mingus, Charles,
Jazz Portraits/Mingus in Wonderland

1996, Mingus, Charles,
Live at Carnegie Hall

John Handy
John Handy Jazz Festival

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Last Update April, 2000