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Interviews

Craig Handy: The Busiest Man In Jazz

By Published: March 22, 2010


Dee Dee Bridgewater



During the last quarter of 2009, Handy worked with singer Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
b.1950
vocalist
. Subsequent to Bridgewater's release of her Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
tribute, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee (Emarcy, 2010), they have been touring again at the beginning of 2010. "She has a great band," Handy says, "with Edsel Gomez
Edsel Gomez
Edsel Gomez
b.1962
piano
as pianist and musical director, Ira Coleman on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson
Gregory Hutchinson
Gregory Hutchinson
b.1970
drums
on drums."

Handy thoroughly enjoys working with Bridgewater. "She's more than a singer or vocalist. She's like an instrumentalist, a musician. She tells the group, 'Think of me as being like the trumpeter player in the band.' Traditionally, when you play with a singer, you don't want to cover them up. My training was that you don't play when the vocalist is singing. You play behind the singer, not at the same time. But, with Dee Dee there's nothing I can do that she isn't right there harmonically, rhythmically—in any way. She picks it right up." The New York Times' Stephen Holden commented on the February, 2010 New York City appearance of the group: "Mr. Handy was the other key player. Throughout the show he exhibited a combination of sensitivity and audacity that suggested a telepathic connection to Ms. Bridgewater, as he explored the timbral limits of the flute and saxophones in much the same way that she used her voice."




Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All Stars



Handy has taken over the reed spot vacated by the late Mario Rivera

Mario Rivera
Mario Rivera
1939 - 2007
saxophone
in Conrad Herwig
Conrad Herwig
Conrad Herwig
b.1959
trombone
's Latin Side All Stars band. "Mario was sick for the last year and a half of his life. As his replacement, I joined the group a little over two years ago." Handy brings a healthy blues-inflected grounding to the band, and his relationship with Latin music goes way back. "I've always been passionate about Latin music. I grew up listening to a lot of Salsa, like the records on Fania and other labels. The sound has always been with me." Handy says Herwig's group "is a great concept; one of those concepts that's solidified. Conrad's been doing it for 14 years now."



The band's latest recording, scheduled for 2010 release, is The Latin Side Of Herbie Hancock (HighNote, 2010). Handy waxes enthusiastic about the CD. "Wait till you hear 'Toys,' and 'Maiden Voyage.'" The band—with trumpeter Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
, pianist Bill O'Connell
Bill O'Connell
Bill O'Connell

arranger
, conguero/vocalist Pedro Matinez, bassist Ruben Rodriguez and drummer Robbie Ameen—has been working frequently. At a January, 2010 gig at The Blue Note in Greenwich Village, the band—vigorous and self-assured—showed what it could do. The music works as jazz, as Latin, as Latin jazz, as world music, as dance music...whatever. It's exciting and vital. Handy is the perfect front-line foil for Herwig, who keeps pushing himself beyond what seems capable on the trombone.




The Cookers



Another major contemporary ensemble in which Handy plays a crucial part is The Cookers. A David Weiss project, the Cookers is a super group made up of tenorist Billy Harper

Billy Harper
Billy Harper
b.1943
saxophone
, trumpeter Eddie Henderson
Eddie Henderson
Eddie Henderson
b.1940
trumpet
, pianist George Cables
George Cables
George Cables
b.1944
piano
, bassist Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
b.1935
bass, acoustic
and drummer Billy Hart, with musical director Weiss on trumpet and acting as producer. Handy has replaced James Spaulding
James Spaulding
James Spaulding
b.1937
sax, alto
and plays alto and flute with the group, which has been together for two years.

Having toured Europe and the United States, there's a bit of footage on YouTube, and in January 2010, the group recorded its first CD for the Jazz Legacy (Prod) label. "People are going to love this record" Handy enthuses. "We just recorded for John Lee in New Jersey. It's a band that's taken its title from the Night of the Cookers, the [1973] Blue Note Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
live date."

Revealing awe for frontline mate Billy Harper, Handy says, "I wish I could figure out how to play like Billy Harper. We played in Detroit last week and everybody knew Billy and his compositions. He's been there before. There were some serious, diehard, hardcore jazz fans there. It wasn't like playing some of the clubs in New York where you see all these people dressed beautifully in this beautiful room with the skyline of Central Park and the city in the background. I've always felt, in places like that, that people are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the surroundings, and they're like 'Let's clap politely because this is such an elegant place.' The Detroit experience was exactly the opposite. There was one guy in the audience who would not shut up. People were screaming 'Yeah.' It was really intense how people were digging the music on that level. I was kind of like 'What America is this? Where has this America been for the last twenty years of my career?'



"It was like being in America in the 1970s. The crowd was mixed, but the audience was predominately black. I can imagine that's what Newark was like in the '60s and '70s, Chicago, Atlanta. It was kind of like a black experience, but also it was an experience for everybody there. It wasn't just about black people liking black music. Everybody was digging the music and getting into it. They were 'Oooing' and 'Ahhing' and shouting and screaming."



Detroit was the first concert the Cookers band played in America. "So I'm glad it happened there," Handy says. "It's taken like two years to happen. I'm sure it's going to happen more now that the band is putting a record out."



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