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All Music Guide:
A talented and adventurous altoist whose career has gone through several phases, John Handy started playing alto in 1949. After moving to New York in 1958, he had a fiery period with Charles Mingus (1958-1959) that resulted in several passionate recordings that show off his originality; he also recorded several dates as a leader for Roulette. Handy led his own bands during 1959-1964, and played with Mingus at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival, but it was at the following year's festival that he was a major hit, stretching out with his quintet (which included violinist Michael White and guitarist Jerry Hahn) on two long originals. Soon, Handy was signed to Columbia, where he recorded his finest work (three excellent albums) during 1966-1968. Since that time, he has performed world music with Ali Akbar Khan, recorded the R&B hit "Hard Work" for Impulse in 1976, gigged and recorded with Mingus Dynasty, and in the late '80s led a group (called Class) featuring three female violinists who sing. John Handy (no relation to the Dixieland altoist Capt. John Handy) remains a strong soloist who can hit high notes way above his horn's normal register with ease, but he has mostly maintained a low profile, teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area.
John Richard Handy III (born February 3, 1933, in Dallas, Texas) is an American jazz musician most commonly associated with the alto saxophone, although he also plays tenor and baritone saxophone, saxello, clarinet, oboe, and sings.
Handy first came to prominence while working for Charles Mingus in the 1950s. In the 1960s, Handy led several groups, among them a quintet with Michael White, violin, Jerry Hahn, guitar, Don Thompson, bass, and Terry Clarke, drums. This group's performance at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival was recorded and released as an album; Handy received Grammy nominations for "Spanish Lady" (jazz performance) and "If Only We Knew" (jazz composition).
Handy has also taught music history and performance at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and other schools.
In the 1980s he worked in the project Bebop & Beyond, who recorded tribute albums to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.
Handy's son, John Richard Handy IV, is a drummer who has played with Handy on occasion.