Sweet Basil April 12, 1997 New York City Talk about what good teachers can do for a student. Coming out of one of the finest jazz programs in the country at North Texas State, playing with Art Blakey, being a long-time member of Roy Haynes' band, working with Abdullah Ibrahim and spending quality time with Betty Carter, tenor man Craig Handy, at the age of 34 has taken these lessons to heart as evidenced by his recent stand at NY's Sweet Basil. Hot on the heels of a well-received tour with the Kansas City band, in reference to the Robert Altman film in which Handy appeared, the tenor-stylist appeared ready to roll with his own group. Appearing with Handy were: Carter alumni Dwayne Burno on bass, Gene Jackson on drums and Haynes alumni David Kikoski at the piano. Handy burned through a few original numbers with a lovely reading of "My Ship" thrown in for good measure. Handy is able to find lyricism in the most firey of settings while not falling prey to the "too many notes disease" that so many players are prone to do. The relationship that clearly exists between Kikoski and Handy not only comes from their common employer, Haynes, but from the pianist's appearance on Handy's latest effort, Three for All plus One. Perhaps the grounding of Handy's style results from his experiences playing with the prestigious "One o' Clock" big band at North Texas State. The combination of playing in that setting along with exposure to teachers such as Bill Bolden and Jim Riggs, according to Handy, "helped me out a lot... North Texas was able to provide a sort of meat and potatoes, back to basics type of jazz education, which for some, is the way to go." Handy bemoans the fact that there are a plethora of fine players at the school that will never be heard for one reason or another.
When asked if there was a difference in terms of playing with Haynes and Blakey, Handy replies simply, "apples and oranges... both were great players with superb leadership skills. With Roy, you get a very melodic player who takes great pride in paying attention to the lyrics of whatever tune is being played. He would always tell his players to be playing a song when soloing, don't just play a bunch of licks." Certainly that is one lesson that has been well learned.