Once in a while, all of my New Orleans years come rushing back and fill me with music I haven’t thought about in ages. Tonight, it was the muscular alto saxophone of Captain John Handy. The son of a bandleader, he was born in Mississippi in 1900. Handy taught himself clarinet and in his middle teens was in New Orleans playing with trumpeter Punch Miller. After he switched to alto sax in the late 1920s, he developed a big sound with enough vibrato to be interesting but not annoying. Through the 1930s he worked with his bassist brother Sylvester in the Louisiana Shakers and before his death in 1971 had played with Kid Howard, Jim Robinson, Lee Collins, the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the Preservation Hall Band, Kid Clayton, Kid Sheik Colar and dozens of other New Orleans stalwarts. In their book New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album, Doc Souchon and Al Rose described Handy as, “A rock and roll-type musician limited to the blues,” a mystifyingly wrong-headed evaluation. Here’s Handy with the New Orleans classic “While We Danced At The Mardi Gras,” with nary a hint of rock and roll.
Captain John Handy was not related to the modern jazz alto saxophonist John Handy, who had a successful and widely popular quintet in the mid-1960s. These days he occasionally reconstitutes that group. They were a major hit at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival. Their recording of that performance was a best-selling album. From their second album, here is “Dancy, Dancy,” another success for Handy. He is on alto sax, with violinist Michael White, bassist Don Thompson, guitarist Jerry Hahn and drummer Terry Clarke.
“Dancy, Dancy” is from this album.