The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz calls John Handy one of the finest saxophonists of his generation." In fact, Handy's soulful and explosive saxophone style is instantly recognizable to generations of jazz fans world-wide.
For some, Handy is best known for his short but storied tenure in the Charles Mingus group in 1959, during which he participated significantly to several classic Mingus recordings, including Mingus Ah Um and Blues and Roots. To others, it's his storied appearance at the 1965 Monterrey Jazz Festival with a quintet featuring violinist Michael White, guitarist Jerry Hahn, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. Others came aboard with Handy's 1976, funk-laden crossover hit, Hard Work."
But no matter what part of John Handy's amazing career resonates most with an individual music fan, the fact remains that the full breadth of Handy's life in music stands as a testimony to an adventurous spirit and incredible talent and a fiery musical passion. From his roots in San Francisco blues bands in the 1950's to the performance of his Concerto for Jazz Soloist and Orchestra" with the San Francisco Symphony in 1970, through his explorations into Indian music, John Handy's artistic journeys have marked him as an undauntable musical adventurer.
But first and foremost, Handy is a jazz saxophonist with a joyous, lyrical power and the full range of his instrument at his immediate command. A long-time San Franciscan, John Handy is a true jazz giant. His performances in the intimate surroundings of Jazz at Pearl's promise a very special weekend of unforgettable jazz. For his Pearl's sets, Handy will be joined by pianist Dave Mathews, violinist Carlos Reyes, bassist Marcus Shelby and drummer Akira Tana.
Handy was born in Dallas and moved to Oakland in 1948. As a teenager, he played around the Bay Area in blues bands led by Roy Hawkins, Pee Wee Crayton, Little Willie Littlefield, Jimmy McCracklin, Wild Willie Moore, and Dell Graham, and jazz artists such as Gerald Wilson, Teddy Edwards, and Frank Morgan. He made his recording debut in 1953 with Lowell Fulson . Although his musical approach changed after he heard Charlie Parker at San Francisco's Say When Club, the influence of such earlier saxophone favorites as Johnny Hodges, Louis Jordan, and Earl Bostic remained strong and contributed greatly to the development of his unique, searing style.