Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

John Handy: Visionary Jazz Saxophonist, Bandleader, and Composer

Handy, John
Crawford, Caroline
John Handy: Visionary Jazz Saxophonist, Bandleader, and Composer
Alto saxophonist John Handy came to the Bay Area from Dallas when he was fifteen, joined three bands at McClymonds High School in Oakland and was soon playing in the San Francisco Fillmore District's jazz clubs, particularly Bop City, which he considered a second home. In the late 1950s he moved to New York City, where Charles Mingus heard him at the Five Spot Club, announced “Bird is back!" and invited him to perform with his band—he subsequently recorded eight albums with Mingus. Charlie Parker was a major influence on Handy's music. “He brought to me the use of chromatic skills—half-tones—like nobody else. He expanded the sound and made the music bigger." Raised in the bebop era, Handy's approach to jazz is cerebral and virtuosic. Known for his collaborations with blues and jazz artists, Indian classical musicians and others, and for compositions such as “Spanish Lady," he taught for many years at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley and Stanford. Handy continues to live and perform in the Bay Area. His oral history is part of the American Composers Series.
Subject area(s):
Arts and Letters
Interview date(s):
2006 2007
Arts and Letters - Individual Interviews
Oskicat record:
Handy, John. "John Handy: Visionary Jazz Saxophonist, Bandleader, and Composer." Interview by Caroline Crawford in 2006 and 2007. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2009.