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John Handy
Saxophonist Former
Fillmore Resident

John Handy
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Video Credit: KQED 1999



Bop City sign
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Photo Credit: KRON


On the Music Played at Bop City

It was exciting to me because it was basically a new music in its developing stages. The music of Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Miles, and drummers like Max Roach. Art Tatum came there and I even had the pleasure of having breakfast with him one morning. It was fantastic and challenging because I was a student as well as an admirer, a fan. I was playing many times with my heroes right away. That's what was blowing my mind. I never knew who I was going to play with, who was going to be at Bop City. And I got to know and play first hand with these folks. People like Paul Gonzalez, out of Duke's band, and I told him, he was the first person who played the saxophone so well I actually thought he swallowed it. I'd never heard anybody play on that level. That was when I was seventeen.


On Being Schooled at Bop City

Bop City because of its inclusion of all this new, different music became kind of like a school. It was a conservatory, a classroom, a performance room; it was all that in one. It was also a place where you learned the behavior, the modus operandi of just how to handle yourself in that kind of company. These were thrills that were unspeakable. If people love art and they love music, think of what it does to the artist. It's unutterable. Sometimes people would get up and the world would come to an end because of what they were doing; the music was that good. Sometimes a person would play an idea that you'd like to duplicate or build from. That's how I really learned to play, by watching other people play the saxophone. I was able to compare, in my mind, a creative art like jazz improvisation, especially in the heat of something like Bop City, to being in physical combat. To understand the preparation that you have to have, certain skills and certain knowledge and then what your body can do. We really wanted to prepare ourselves musically, artistically, so we could demand, command, and deserve the audience's attention.



Inside Bop City
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Photo Credit: Brenda Robinson

On Playing with John Coltrane

Coltrane was just a kid, a young man, 24 or 25 years old, when I met him. We were on the bandstand with Frank Fisher and Pony Poindexter. It was a weekend and he was here with Johnny Hodges. He didn't play that well, I mean, at 24 years old he was just a good player. I was more fascinated by his name than I was by his playing because I thought, Johnny Coltrane, what kind of name is that for a black guy? I remember we did have coffee after and we were talking about music. I said I wish I had more technique. I remember John saying, you don't need more, you have lots of technique. That was our first conversation, the year I got out of high school. I didn't see him again until five years later. He came to my 23rd birthday party. We were listening to lots of Sonny Rawlins' records. That's when I was very impressed with John. We did some practices together at my house. John was beginning to really sound different and play some very profound things.

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