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Captain John Handy

The Genius of Captain John Handy

Upbeat URCD283




1. Perdido

2. Caldonia

Recorded in New Orleans, Aug. 12, 1965

Captain John Handy – Alto sax

Alvin Alcorn – Trumpet

Hugh Watts – Trombone

David “Fat Man” Williams – Piano, vocal (track #2)

Placide Adams – String bass

Chester Jones – Drums.

3. Gettysburg March

4. I’ll Always Be in Love with You

Recorded in Connecticut, Mar. 23, 1968

Captain John Handy – Alto sax

George “Kid Sheik” Colar – Trumpet

Louis Nelson – Trombone

Bill Sinclair – Piano, vocal (tracks )

Dave Duquette – Banjo

Chester Zardis – String bass

Sammy Penn – Drums.

5. Bourbon Street Parade

Recorded in Connecticut, June 4, 1970

6. Blue Skies

7. Tiger Rag

8. On the Sunny Side of the Street

9. Handy’s Boogie

10. St Louis Blues

11. Panama Rag

12. Nagasaki

13. Joe Avery’s Piece

14. In the Gutter.

Recorded in Newington, Connecticut, May 7, 1970

Captain John Handy – Alto sax

Punch Miller – Trumpet, vocal (track #5)

Homer Eugene – Trombone

Andrew Morgan – Clarinet, tenor sax, vocal (tracks #8 and #10)

Dick Wellstood – Piano, vocal (tracks )

Sylvester Handy – String bass

Lester Alexis – Drums.

Back in the early fifties traditional jazz purists did not have a warm place in their hearts for the saxophone in a traditional jazz band, despite the presence on occasion of a sax in classic jazz bands. Although this antipathy may have subsided some, it is still usually the clarinet that forms the reed in the front line, and occasionally one finds a clarinet player that doubles on sax. Captain John Handy is not one of the latter. While he began his career as a clarinetist, he switched to alto sax in 1928 and stayed with that instrument from then on. (Captain John Handy is not to be confused with John Handy the modern jazz saxophonist some thirty years his junior. The “Captain”—a non-military sobriquet whose provenance is explained in Mike Pointon’s album notes—helps us distinguish between them.)

Handy, born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, moved to New Orleans when he was around sixteen, becoming a versatile player, comfortable in various styles. He is well known as a rhythm and blues artist as well as a jazz one, and we get a glimpse of the former on the first two tracks—especially, perhaps the second, although I would want to call this group’s style more mainstream jazz than any other. In Perdido Handy demonstrates his chops by taking 64 measures straight of lead, never repeating himself. The second track, Caldonia, is that well-known number that seems to combine swing and blues, giving what some have called a “jump blues” associated with Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, who had the first hit recording of this tune back in 1945. Sung here by David “Fat Man” Williams, Caldonia is given a respectable workout, each player getting some space over the shuffle rhythm.

The groups in the other three recording sessions are more traditional jazz oriented. Most of the musicians are up from New Orleans and we can hear the strong New Orleans spirit in the various ensembles and solos. Of the two trumpets, I prefer that of Punch Miller with sure lip and fast fingering and lack of vibrato. That is not to denigrate Colar’s horn playing, however, on the third and fourth tracks. Gettysburg March is taken at a fast clip and I’ll Always Be in Love with You begins at a fairly leisurely tempo but by the end has a fair head of steam going. The rhythm section seemed unaware or unable to apply the brakes. As I have said elsewhere, Sammy Penn is not my favorite drummer, being too busy for my liking with constant cowbell accents, as well as triplets on the snare of increasing crescendo ending in a crash on the cymbal. But he is the darling of many other auditors. Different strokes for different folks. Handy’s playing on these tracks is impeccable—brim full of ideas, sans any honking or squealing or faux pas.

The remaining ten tracks feature a group led by Punch Miller which has an additional reed—clarinet or tenor sax—played by Andrew Morgan, who also contributes vocals on a couple tracks. After the introduction—a strong, tight statement of melody played in unison—on Bourbon Street Parade, we hear some classic parade drumming from Alexis, every second measure having the syncopation of the emphasis on the last note on the bass drum. He maintains this syncopation of the bass drum accents throughout the rest of the tracks with some judicious snare drumming and very sparing use of other parts of the kit for accents, such as cowbell or toms.

Underscoring the renditions of the tunes in these last tracks is the robust, driving horn of the Captain. The thrust is felt not only on any solos he takes, such as the extended, multi-chorus one on Panama Rag or that in Tiger Rag where he inserts a great quotation from the well-known Stars and Stripes Forever, but also where he is to be heard propelling the ensembles. He is ably assisted by the other members of the group, by Miller’s crisp and vibrato-less trumpet on Nagasaki and elsewhere, by the extremely interesting piano chord riffing with sympathetic—almost hypnotic—bass and drums behind the front line on Handy’s Boogie.

There is the occasional lapse, however, such as the musically pointless sustained single note held (thanks to circular breathing) for what seems an eon by Andrew Morgan; to me, it contributes only to the “gee-whiz factor.” There is also some uncertainty about keeping steady tempos in some places. None of that, however, can detract from what is an otherwise very satisfying musical treat, particularly the playing of Captain John Handy on alto sax. Perhaps had he recorded earlier than his starting to do so in the 1960s and had he not been content to spend most of his life until then in New Orleans, he might have been better known and there might have been less hostility toward the alto sax in traditional jazz in the early years of the “revival.”

There is one caveat re this CD that should be mentioned. All of the tracks on this compilation were issued previously on the Jazz Crusade label as follows:

JCCD 3008 - Gettysburg March, I’ll Always Be in Love with You, and Bourbon Street Parade

JCCD 3073 - Blue Skies, Tiger Rag, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Handy’s Boogie, and St Louis Blues

JCCD 3074 - Panama Rag, Nagasaki, Joe Avery’s Piece, and In the Gutter

JCCD 3092 - Perdido and Caldonia

Having them all together here is convenient, and for those who do not have the Jazz Crusade CDs obtaining this one will “fill a gap.” One should certainly have some Captain John Handy recordings in his or her collection of traditional jazz.

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Bert Thompson


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