All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Interviews

Craig Handy: The Busiest Man In Jazz

By Published: March 22, 2010

New York Early Days



On arriving in New York in the late '80s, one of the first things Handy realized was that his rhythmic concept wasn't as sophisticated as players like David Murray

David Murray
David Murray
b.1955
sax, tenor
and George Adams. "My thing was smoother; less funky in a way." He was determined to figure out how to bring more rhythmic depth to his playing. This led him to seek out players like Irakere's Orlando "Maraca" Valle, when the Cuban band would play in New York. "When I listened to Maraca playing, I learned basically that everything goes back to the drum. Not the snare drum from Scotland, but back to Africa—the Djembe. Everything in this music comes from there. I understood why it is I like certain kinds of music and why I like certain kinds of players—because they either have that sort of understanding of the rhythm, or they don't. I began to understand how important that is. You listen to guys like Billy Harper
Billy Harper
Billy Harper
b.1943
saxophone
, especially his compositions, and man he's dealing so much with traditional rhythms. His use of them is absolutely brilliant." Handy actually had the chance to tour the States with Maraca in '06 and in '08, but sad to say, there are no recordings of that band.



Handy, the California native, obviously thrives on the energy of New York. "There's so much to glean from hanging out in New York with good musicians. It's like, if you want to ski, you hang out with the cats who know how to ski."



When he goes back home to Oakland, California he can sometimes get too comfortable. "I mean, I love California—the climate, the food, the lifestyle, it's great. But at some point I have to come back to New York, because I feel like I begin to lose that edge that I need; that pushing myself. I've got to get up and practice. I can go for days in California without touching my horn. Then I have to leave and get back into the belly of the volcano."




Mingus Big Band



On first joining The Mingus Big Band in the '90s, Handy played tenor and flute. Then suddenly, within the last five years or so, Sue Mingus switched him to the alto chair. "Alex Foster

Alex Foster
Alex Foster
b.1953
saxophone
was playing lead alto, and Steve Slagle
Steve Slagle
Steve Slagle
b.1951
sax, alto
also played lead alto for awhile. Gradually, Alex and Steve fell out of the rotation. Alex became very busy with Saturday Night Live, and Steve Slagle had gigs with his band with Dave Stryker
Dave Stryker
Dave Stryker
b.1957
guitar
and other people.



"So at one point, they needed an alto player. Sue moved me over one day. After maybe a week, she said 'Wow, you sound really good on alto.' Of course, I knew the music already, and so it just kind of stuck. I'd been playing tenor all the way up until after I came off the road with Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
."



Handy's longest hiatus from The Mingus Big Band turned out to be the three and a half years he spent on the road with the Herbie Hancock Quartet.



Herbie Hancock Tour



"For me," Handy says, "Herbie was like your best uncle who comes over and takes you to the ball game."



At the time, The Herbie Hancock Quartet was basically covering The New Jazz Standard (Columbia, 1996). "Herbie had a really big hit with that record," Handy says. The New Jazz Standard had been recorded with guitarist John Scofield

John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
, saxophonist Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, drummer Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
, bassist Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
and percussionist Don Alias
Don Alias
Don Alias
1939 - 2006
percussion
. "It sold well over 200,000 copies in a very short amount of time. And Verve was impressed. They decided 'Wow, let's get these guys on the road.'"



But, with all those leaders, the band turned out to be expensive. "I think they did at least one big tour and then everybody got busy with their own stuff." Hancock decided to continue the run, so he hired Handy to replace Brecker, and brought in drummer Gene Jackson, who had already been playing with him for a number of years. Holland stayed for six months, and when he left, he was replaced by Kenny Davis

Kenny Davis
Kenny Davis
b.1961
bass, acoustic
on bass. "So that quartet went out and we continued touring. They promoted that record for a long time. I don't know if that record ever went gold, but it sold a lot of copies."

Unfortunately, Handy never got the chance to record with Hancock. "Herbie was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next," Handy says. "To this day one of my biggest regrets is not having put more of my music in front of him. That's what he did when he was with Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, and that's what Wayne Shorter did." Handy felt he had an obligation to do the same while working with Hancock. "But I had a really hard time coming up with original music, because I'd been listening to Herbie probably since I was eight years old. I'd been so influenced by his tunes, and music, and the sound he would get out of the piano, plus all his different groups like Thrust and Headhunters, the Miles Davis Quintet, and the things he did on Blue Note with Dexter [Gordon] and Freddie [Hubbard] and others—I just had Herbie on the brain." When learning to play in high school, Handy used to transcribe Hancock's piano solos onto flute. "That great solo on "Seven Steps To Heaven." I still think that is one of the best solos on record. It's something that Bird [[{Charlie Parker}}] could have done."



The entire time they played together, Hancock's sound was so strong and so powerful, Handy couldn't hear anything else. "I did end up putting a couple of tunes in front of him, but some of the stuff I had was really overwritten and too complicated. We worked on it in rehearsals; he was very gracious with his time and help, but that's as far we got."



Though Handy never recorded in the studio with Hancock, he was surprised to learn that Hancock recorded all their concerts. "He always has his soundman set up a tape recorder. Herbie's been doing that since he was with Miles. After the Miles concerts, Herbie, Wayne, and Tony would get together and listen all night to the playbacks to hear what they'd been doing. Herbie must have a ton of amazing stuff recorded."



comments powered by Disqus