John Handy

– Jazz Essay, Research Paper

John Handy

Have you ever heard of John Handy? Probably not around here, but he

is a well known person in San Francisco. Handy has done such things as

taught jazz, played straight-ahead bebop, and led bands.

John Handy was born in 1933 in Dallas, Texas. Not much is known

about his childhood, until he moved to Oakland, California in 1948. After that

he enrolled in San Francisco State College in 1952. Soon after being in

college, he had to serve in the army from 1953 to 1955. Following the army,

Handy moved to New York in 1958. Not knowing while going gig-hunting,

John ran into the great bassist, Charles Mingus. Charles asked, “Hey, baby,

you workin’?” Handy confessed that he didn’t, and got a job with Mingus.

Handy was on a lot of records with Mingus over the next year.

When John left Mingus, he joined Randy Weston, the pianist. They

played in the summer of ‘59 at The Five Spot in New York. They also played

in an all-star band with Kenny Dorham, Gigi Gryce, Wayne Shorter, and Hank

Mobley. Later that year, Handy made his first album called In the

Vernacular. Handy took a well needed vacation to California in ‘62. Which

was supposed to be three-weeks, ended up being the rest of his life.

John Handy was stuck in the middle of the civil rights movement. John

was embraced since 1960 in New York, so in 1964 he began a tentet called the

Freedom Band. This group was made to raise money for organizations that

were involved in the fight against segregation. Handy ended up buying the

house, in which he lives in today. He had to buy the house, because nobody

would rent out a house to an interracial marriage.

In 1965 Handy commonly appeared at the Both/And Club. While John

was at the Both/And Club, director Jimmy Lyons promised him a spot at the

Monterey Jazz Festival. John Handy’s big hit at the festival was “Spanish

Lady.” The crowd loved it so much, they got out of their seats and cheered


Handy met Ravi Shankar in 1964, who taught him the style of the music

in India. Later in ‘71, John started to play with Indian sarode master Ali Akbar

Khan. During that time they recorded two albums, along with one in India

with Ravi Shankar called Jazz Mine. Shankar made a composition that John

Handy, and about twenty-five musicians, played at the Bombay Jazz Festival

in 1980.

“Hard Work” was the name of his 1976 hit that contained genuine

rhythm and blues. Since then, John has recorded with groups such as Bebop

and Beyond and The Mingus Dynasty. In August of ‘94, Handy’s quintet was

brought together again at Yoshi’s Nitespot as a part of The Eddie Moore Jazz

Festival, as they played “Spanish Lady.” Last Year John played a five-night

agreement in Los Angeles with his old friend, Randy Weston, in a trio format.

The past ten years, Handy has made a group called John Handy with Class.

John Handy has been teaching jazz at San Francisco State, Stanford

University, and The University of California at Berkley. John Handy is a true

pioneer and leader in the life of jazz.

Tate, Robert. “John Handy.”

(February 1998)


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