Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Overdue Ovation: Craig Handy

Now's the time

Craig Handy performing with Mingus Big Band at Portland Jazz Festival
Craig Handy performing with Mingus Big Band at Portland Jazz Festival

Most Americans over 30 know Craig Handy-not by name, but by sound. His was the tenor saxophone that, riding a Junior Walker groove, blew the opening theme of NBC’s The Cosby Show in its sixth and seventh seasons (1989-’91). More than two decades later, he still remembers the thrill of seeing his name on network TV. “That was before they were doing these micro-credits,” Handy says. “My name was on there for a full second; I think that was the biggest gas for me.” His playing, not so much: “I always thought that my playing there wasn’t really representative of what I could do, and I felt like it wasn’t really as good a performance as I could have, and should have, given.”

Handy holds himself to high standards, and they’ve served him well in his 52 years. The Oakland, Calif., native has led a busy and accomplished career since his 1986 debut in New York, working with the likes of Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Herbie Hancock and Dee Dee Bridgewater. He also spent nearly 20 years in the official Mingus repertory ensembles: Mingus Dynasty, the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Orchestra. The new self-titled album by his band 2nd Line Smith is only Handy’s fifth album as a leader, but its fusion of New Orleans second-line music and organ jazz (“Smith” refers to Jimmy) has garnered significant acclaim-not least from the project’s sidemen. “Every one of us is hoping this band will be successful enough that we can make it our top gig,” says guitarist Matt Chertkoff. “That’s how much we love what Craig has us doing.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.