The Cookers have each had a major impact on the jazz world as both leaders and sidemen since the 1960s. Founded by acclaimed trumpeter David Weiss, the band is made up of a dizzying array of jazz giants.
It's the constant search to become better that keeps the Cookers fresh and growing.
—Trumpeter David Weiss
Craig Handy will be standing in for saxophonist Billy Harper. Handy is a musician with big, burly tenor sound, sharp wit, and above all, individuality.
New Orleans-born tenor giant; Donald Harrison developed his powerful approach with drummers Art Blakey and Roy Haynes, and is a major figure representing Crescent City jazz at its best.
Audacious trumpeter Eddie Henderson gained fame as part of Herbie Hancock’s influential electric Mwandishi group, eventually releasing over 20 sessions.
Pianist George Cables is one of jazz’s most enduring composers and performers, with over 20 albums under his belt as leader and work with Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson.
Bass legend Cecil McBee has led a storied career, recording and performing with artists ranging from Pharoah Sanders and Sam Rivers to Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd.
Drummer Billy Hart cut his teeth with Herbie Hancock’s sextet, Eddie Harris, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz among countless others before establishing himself as a superlative bandleader.
- Sunday, February 25, 2024
- 11:00 am - 12:00 pm (1 hr)
- Annenberg Theatre
BUY TICKETS - $75 - $40 - $25Buy single show tickets for The Cookers at modernismweek.com
The Cookers - 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Sunday, February 25, 2024
- $25 - Rear Orchestra: General Admission
- $40 - Center Orchestra: Premier
- $75 - VIP Front Orchestra
BUY VIP ALL ACCESS TICKETS - $1,000Buy VIP All Access Tickets at modernismweek.com
Reserved front orchestra seating for all four shows plus dinner:
- Herb Alpert and Lani Hall - Sat Feb 24: 8:00 - 9:30 pm
- Taj Mahal and Sona Jobarteh - Sun Feb 25: 7:30 - 9:00 pm
- Smoke Tree Ranch Dinner - Sun Feb 25: 5:00 - 7:00 pm
- Lance Conrad Trio - Sun Feb 25: 5:00 - 7:00 pm STR
- Veronica Swift - Sun Feb 25: 2:00 - 2:30 pm
- The Cookers - Sun Feb 25: 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
The Cookers website
"The Cookers are some of the best composers, arrangers and musicians we have in jazz, and they're working together in one of the most exciting super-groups we've seen in a long, long time."
From their inception and release of their debut album, Warriors, The Cookers have decidedly been a band, not a one-off assemblage of veterans playing a predictable list of standards. Quite the opposite – they are a cohesive unit performing their own finely wrought compositions with more fire and passion than the generations of musicians they’ve inspired.
"A remarkable band at the height of its collective powers."
- Chris Waddington, The Times-Picayune
"This is the greatest jazz super-band working."
- Charles L. Latimer, Detroit Metro Times
"Player for player there's no better working band in jazz than The Cookers."
- Andrew Gilbert, The Boston Globe
The Cookers - Sir Galahad - behind the scenes
The Cookers - Slippin' and Slidin' - behind the scenes
Jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Eddie Henderson received his first informal lesson on the trumpet at the age of 9 from Louis Armstrong. As a teenager he studied trumpet at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performed with the San Francisco Conservatory Symphony Orchestra. In 1957, Eddie met Miles Davis for the first time. Miles, a family friend, admired the strikingly beautiful tone and musicality of Henderson’s trumpet playing and encouraged him to pursue a career in music. As a family friend, Miles has been a major musical influence on Eddie throughout his life. That culminated in May of 2002 with the recording of So What, a tribute to Miles that features songs associated with the legend. As Henderson puts it, “Miles is so very special to me because when I was in high school he stayed in my parent’s house when he came through San Francisco. I was going to the conservatory then studying classical music. I saw him do all these songs live that I recorded on the tribute album.”
Eddie had the good fortune of meeting many famous musicians growing up (including getting those early tips from Satchmo) because his parents were both entertainers. His mother was a dancer at the original Cotton Club and his father a member of the popular singing group Billy Williams and the Charioteers. His stepfather was a doctor to people like Miles, Coltrane and Duke Ellington, so the association with musicians continued. In addition to excelling on his instrument, Eddie excelled academically enough to go to medical school and become a doctor.
From 1968 until the late ‘80s, Henderson mixed music and medicine. He received his first major musical exposure as a member of Herbie Hancock’s trailblazing Mwandishi sextet, an ensemble that also included young innovators such as Bennie Maupin, Julian Priester, Buster Williams and Billy Hart. From 1969 through 1973 they recorded Mwandishi and Crossings for Warner Bros. and Sextant for Columbia. His experiences with Hancock exerted a profound influence on Henderson as reflected in the music on his first two solo albums, Realization and Inside Out, recorded in 1972 and 1973 for Capricorn Records.
After leaving Hancock, the trumpeter worked extensively with Pharoah Sanders, Norman Connors and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Eddie returned to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975 where he joined the Latin-jazz group Azteca and fronted his own bands. The expressive rhythmic thrust of Henderson’s jazz/fusion experiences manifested itself on his Blue Note recordings Sunburst and Heritage and in 1977, he broke through with a single on the Billboard charts, “Prance On” (from the album Comin’ Through).
Eddie has also performed with such notables as Dexter Gordon, Roy Haynes, Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones, Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton, Benny Golson, Max Roach and McCoy Tyner.
In a jazz climate that rewards neo-conservative tributes and far-flung exercises in deconstruction, David Weiss has distinguished himself another way: through finding flexibility and innovation in music that has its roots in the mainstream. The trumpeter, composer, and arranger has had the opportunity to learn from some of the music’s quintessential figures by touring and/or recording with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Charles Tolliver, Billy Harper, Bobby Hutcherson, Slide Hampton, James Moody, Tom Harrell, Louis Hayes, Muhal Richard Abrams, Odean Pope, Geri Allen and Billy Hart among many others. Weiss was born in New York City, but began his musical studies in earnest by attending North Texas State University. He graduated in 1986 and returned to New York. He soon found work with Jaki Byard, Frank Foster and Jimmy Heath and began to study with fellow trumpeters Tommy Turrentine and Bill Hardman. He also attended Barry Harris’ weekly workshops, a valuable learning experience for Weiss and an opportunity for him to play with Mr. Harris and Walter Davis Jr.
In 1996, recognizing a lack of serious new jazz writing, Weiss recruited some young, first-call New York musicians and composers to form the New Jazz Composers Octet. With their passionate rendering of thoughtful arrangements and firm rooting in tradition, the collective quickly established itself as the “sound of the new jazz mainstream” (Ben Ratliff, NYTimes) and was praised for their ability to “stretch hard bops kind-of-unstretchable formula (Jim Macnie, Village Voice). Of Weiss’ contribution to the Octet’s 1999 recording debut, First Steps Into Reality (Fresh Sound Records), Willard Jenkins commented, “a skilled arranger, transcriber and all-round coordinator, Weiss also brings righteous trumpet chops to this potent mix.” (Jazz Times). The CD was also lauded as a “gem” and received a Critic’s Pick as one of the Top 5 Albums of the Year in Jazz Times.
Weiss first developed an interest in writing for octet while arranging a couple of Freddie Hubbard compositions for the Hubbard album M.M.T.C. Both Weiss and Hubbard liked the miniature big band sound and decided to collaborate on another album of arrangements of several of Hubbard’s more distinctive pieces from throughout his great career. In 2001, Hubbard recorded these selections with the New Jazz Composers Octet on New Colors (Hip Bop). The London Observer praised the Octet’s “fine, surging ensemble sound” on the recording, as well as the group’s “canny mixture of youth and experience,” and finally observed, “Trumpeter-arranger David Weiss is definitely a name to watch.”
The octet released their second CD Walkin’ the Line (Fresh Sound Records) in 2003 to great critical acclaim which included being voted one of the critic’s top ten picks of the year in JazzWise magazine. Weiss used his compositions from this CD to win the prestigious Chamber Music America Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project: New Works Creation and Presentation grant in 2001, which provides funds to a composer to create a new work for his ensemble. The octet recently released their third CD The Turning Gate on Motema Music and Weiss has already used his compositions from this album to win a grant from the American Composers Forum’s Jerome Composers Commissioning Program in 2005.
In 2000, Weiss formed a second group, the David Weiss Sextet to explore new compositional concepts and styles he was developing that did not fit the sound of the octet. The group also introduced to the jazz world two extraordinary new young talents, twin brothers Marcus and E.J. Strickland who were still in college when they the group was formed. The group released their first album (and Weiss’ first as a leader) Breathing Room (Fresh Sound Records) in 2002. The CD also featured Craig Handy, Xavier Davis, and Dwayne Burno. The CD received great critical acclaim from JazzWise (4 stars, recommended, their highest rating), Down Beat (4 stars) and 52nd Street (4 1/2 stars) among many others. He followed his debut with The Mirror (Fresh Sound Records) which was hailed as a masterpiece by AllAboutJazz and was voted the # 2 CD of the year (2004) by JazzWise Magazine. The group recently reconvened to record their third CD and their first in ten years entitled When Words Fail.
In the past few years, Weiss has formed three new ensembles, all quite different and with their own unique sound. He formed David Weiss and the Point of Departure Quintet in 2006. As with his earlier bands, he formed this new group around some of the finest up and coming musicians in jazz. This group draws it’s inspiration and approach to music from a period in jazz that seems to have not yet been clearly defined, the late 1960’s, a turbulent but exciting time for jazz when music seemed to simultaneously get more complex and simpler at the same time as a variety of influences infused the music. Some were experimenting with soul, rock and exotic rhythms from the India and the Far East and others were carrying on the innovations of the second great Miles Davis quintet, using the group’s ever- shifting rhythms and harmonic complexities as a springboard to new compositional ideas. Some somehow combined both to create some new, exciting music. The Point of Departure Quintet is re-examining some of the most innovative music of the period, some of it neglected, some, perhaps, never quite as developed as it could have been as things seemed to move at a pace during that period that left some music from being fully realized as they quickly moved on to the next new thing. The band has released two critically acclaimed CDs (Snuck In and Snuck Out) recorded live at the Jazz Standard for Sunnyside Records and recently released the much lauded follow-up Wake Up Call on Ropeadope Records. Weiss also took one his occasional special projects The Cookers and decided to solidify the personnel and turn it into a real working unit that would feature some of the most important musicians in jazz that are still living but in his opinion somehow a bit unsung or neglected and give them another showcase for their amazing compositional skills and outstanding improvisational prowess. The group features Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison, George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart and features compositions by Harper, Cables and McBee rearranged for the group by Weiss. The band has now released five CDs over the past six years and has been touring around the world in support of these CDs . The third ensemble is Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter, a 12 piece mini big band devoted to reimagining the music of jazz’ greatest living composer and approach his work as he would, as an ever changing, always evolving body of work. The group performs music from all eras of Mr. Shorter’s great career from the Blakey era (“Mr. Jin”), through music from “The All Seeing Eye”, up to his latest compositions from “Alegria” and “High Life”. Their debut CD, recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center, was released in 2013 to celebrate Mr. Shorter’s 80th Birthday.
Donald was born in New Orleans in 1960 and grew up in a home environment saturated with the city’s traditional music of brass bands, parades, modern Jazz, R&B, Funk, Classical, World and Dance music. His connection to New Orleans roots were deepened by his father, a Big Chief, in a new style of African culture developed New Orleans. The culture is an offshoot culture of Congo Square, one of the only known places in North America where Africans openly participated in their culture in the 18th and 19th centuries and has incorporated some aspects of Native American culture as well. Donald himself became the Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group in 1999 and coined the term Afro-New Orleans. He built the first costume that merges East, West and Central African designs with Afro-New Orleans style cultural designs.
Donald also created “Nouveau Swing,” a style of jazz that merges it with modern dance music like R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul and Rock. He also combined jazz with Afro-New Orleans traditional music on his critically acclaimed albums “Indian Blues” (1991) and “Spirits of Congo Square” (2000). The recordings deepened Harrison’s commitment to maintaining the offshoot rituals, call and response chants and drumming as well as traditional jazz music alive for the next generation.
Donald has performed and recorded with an illustrious list of distinguished musicians in Jazz, R & B, Funk, Classical and more including Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, The Cookers, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Lena Horne, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Eddie Palmieri, Jennifer Holiday, Dr. John, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Digable Planets, Notorious BIG, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to name just a few.
As an actual evacuee/survivor of Hurricane Katrina, he had a prominent role in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary “When the Levees Broke.” He also appeared as himself and co-wrote the sound track for Academy Award winning director Jonathan Demme’s feature film “Rachel’s Getting Married” starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger. Aspects of Donald’s life and music are chronicled with two characters in David Simon’s ground breaking HBO series, Treme. He was also a character consultant and appeared as himself in eleven episodes.
Donald recorded “Quantum Leap” in 2012, which musicians and critics agree is a next step for jazz and is an amalgamation of his years of playing with jazz masters and his life’s experiences. With quantum jazz, Donald has opened up new areas for time, harmony, and melody. The recording also melds cutting edge jazz with New Orleans funk, connecting the past with the present with jazz music that transcends boundaries.
Donald is also co-founder and artistic director for the Tipitina’s Intern Program and founder of The New Jazz School where he along with a staff of his hand pick of seasoned veterans teach Jazz, Soul, Funk, theory, harmony, composition, and history to students ages 13 to 18. The Tipitina’s Intern Program is a college preparatory and professional music training program for junior and senior high school students. The program at Tip’s has garnered close to $10,000,000.00 in scholarships for it’s graduates and placed many prominent young musicians amongst the professional ranks. Harrison taught and mentored the following musicians: trumpeter Christian Scott, hip-hop icon The Notorius B.I.G., trombonist/singer Trombone Shorty, guitarist Josh Connelly and saxophonists Louis Fouche, Chris Royal and Aaron Fletcher. His working groups have proven to be an incubator for jazz bandleaders such as trumpeter Christian Scott, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and bassists Christian McBride and Esperanza Spaulding.
His awards include two of France’s “Grand Prix du Disque”, Switzerland’s “The Ascona Award”, Japan’s Swing Journal “Alto Saxophonist of the Year,” The Jazz Journalist Association’s “A List Award,” 2012 New Orleans Civic Award, 2007 Jazziz Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” the Big Easy Music Awards “Ambassador of Music” and is a Down Beat Magazine Alto Saxophone Poll Winner. He was also a 2006 Resident at William and Mary College, a 1995 “Meet The Composer” recipient and has also earned a 2012 Grammy nomination.
When George Cables was going to school in New York City he used to walk the streets at night, taking in the cosmopolitan sights and sounds, mentally recording his encounters with “so many different kinds of people.” In his musical career as well, Cables has prowled sidestreets and main thoroughfares in relative anonymity, absorbing countless influences into his personal style.
Born in New York City on November 14, 1944, Cables was classically trained as a youth and when he started at the “Fame” worthy High School of Performing Arts, he admittedly “didn’t know anything about jazz.” But he was soon smitten with the potential for freedom of expression he heard in jazz.
The young Cables was impressed by such keyboardists as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea but, he points out, “I never really listened to pianists when I was coming up. I would probably say I’ve been more influenced by Miles or Trane and their whole bands rather than by any single pianist. The concept of the music is more important to me than listening to somebody’s chops or somebody’s technique; the way Miles’ band held together, it was just like magic. You were transported to another world.”
Cables attended Mannes College of Music for two years and by 1964 he was playing in a band called The Jazz Samaritans which included such rising stars as Billy Cobham, Lenny White and Clint Houston. Gigs around New York at the Top of the Gate, Slugs, and other clubs attracted attention to Cables’ versatility and before long he had recorded with Max Roach and Paul Jeffrey and earned a brief tenure with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1969.
A 1969 tour with tenor titan Sonny Rollins took Cables to the West Coast and by 1971 he became a significant figure in the jazz scenes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Collaborations and recordings with tenor saxophonists Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson made Cables’ wide-ranging keyboard skills, often on electric piano, amply evident. Demand for his sensitive accompaniment increased and by the end of the 1970s, Cables was garnering a reputation as everyone’s favorite sideman.
Perhaps the most pivotal turn came when hard-bop legend Dexter Gordon invited Cables into his quartet in 1977. The two years he spent with the re-appreciated tenor giant ignited Cables’s passion for the acoustic piano and re-immersed him in the bebop vocabulary. “I don’t feel that one should be stuck in the mud playing the same old stuff all the time, trying to prove that this music is valid,” Cables says. “We don’t need to prove anything but I think you really have to be responsive to your heritage and then go on and find your own voice.”
The longest standing relationship Cables developed in the late seventies was with alto saxophonist Art Pepper. Cables, who Pepper called “Mr. Beautiful,” became Art’s favorite pianist, appearing on many quartet dates for Contemporary and Galaxy and joining Art for the extraordinary duet album, Goin’ Home, that would be Pepper’s final recording session. “I’ve been able to play with some of the greatest musicians in the world,” Cables says, “but it’s funny, if you’re not seen as a bandleader, doing the same thing a lot of times, it’s easy to wonder, `Well, who are you really? What do you really feel?’ And sometimes I have to ask myself that, because every time I play with somebody different I have to put on a different hat.”
He has performed and recorded with some of the greatest jazz musicians of our time, including: Joe Henderson, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Williams, Bobby Hutcherson and Dizzy Gillespie.
George Cables has emerged as a major voice in modern jazz. He is currently performing and recording as a soloist, with trio and larger ensembles, and as a clinician in college jazz programs. In addition to composing and arranging for his own albums, George Cables has contributed to recordings by Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson and many others. He is noted for his fresh Interpretations of classic compositions and for his innovative style of writing.
World-acclaimed Bassist Cecil McBee was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a community of rich and varied musical roots. His musical career started in high school, where he first played the clarinet. He and his sister Shirley soon gained local notoriety performing clarinet duets at concerts around the state. By the age of 17, he began to experiment with the string bass and played steadily at local nightclubs with top Jazz and Rhythm and Blues groups.
Because of the great promise he showed on the clarinet, Cecil was offered a full scholarship to attend Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio and upon his arrival to college, he was immediately embraced as both a fine clarinetist and a promising young bassist. Cecil found the academic atmosphere extremely inspiring, both towards his educational needs as a potential instructor as well as bass performer. Unfortunately, his college education was interrupted by his induction into the U.S. Army where he spent two years as the conductor of the “158th Band” at Fort Knox, Kentucky. There he developed a personal study of the possibilities of bass composition and improvisation.
After his discharge from the army, Cecil returned to college to resume his studies and eventually received Bachelor of Science degree in music education. By the time he graduated from college, Cecil realized that although he had prepared for a career in education, he was more inspired by performing jazz on the world stage. To realize this goal, Cecil decided to move to Detroit, then home to one of the most thriving jazz communities in the world. Within a year, he joined Paul Winter Sextet, which turned out to be an open passage for his eventual arrival in New York City.
Since his arrival in New York, Cecil has been embraced for his talents and has recorded and traveled worldwide with such powerful Jazz personalities as
Charles Lloyd, Pharoah Sanders, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Bobby Hutcherson, Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, Michael White, Jackie McLean, Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, Ravi Coltrane, Abdullah Ibrahim, Lonnie Liston Smith, Buddy Tate, Joanne Brackeen, Dinah Washington, Benny Goodman, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter, Art Pepper, Charles Lloyd, Pharoah Sanders, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Yosuke Yamashita, Billy Harper and Geri Allen.
The recipient of two NEA composition grants, McBee has written works that are performed worldwide and have been recorded by Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and many others. His music covers all territories of creative improvisation and is unique to his own individuality and incredible abilities on the instrument.
In 1989 he won a Grammy for his performance of “Blues for John Coltrane” featuring Roy Haynes, David Murray, McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders. In 1991, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
As one of post bop’s most advanced and versatile bassists, Cecil McBee creates rich, singing phrases in a wide range of contemporary jazz contexts.
Billy Hart was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Jazz was in his blood. His family lived five blocks from the Spotlite Club, where the underage drummer pressed his ear to the window to listen to the Coltrane-Adderley-Evans edition of the Miles Davis Sextet, and the Lee Morgan-Benny Golson edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. His father, a mathematician and “an intellectual cat who demanded respect and knew a lot about a lot,” was a staunch Ellington fan; his paternal grandmother had played piano for Marian Anderson and knew William Grant Still. His mother was devoted to Jimmie Lunceford; his maternal grandmother—who bought him his first “good drum set for a gig with a good bebop band”—was a friend of D.C. tenor hero Buck Hill, who turned Hart on to Charlie Parker, and hired him at 17 for nine months of weekend gigs at a spot called Abart’s, where fellow McKinley High School students Reuben Brown and Butch Warren joined him six nights a week as the house rhythm section.
Hart matriculated at Howard University as a mechanical engineering major, but left when Shirley Horn, who had hired him out of Abart’s, took him on the road. Hart credits her with teaching him to play bebop at a simmer, not a roar. He also learned Brazilian rhythms from the source on early ’60s sub jobs at Charlie Byrd’s Showboat Lounge with Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto and Bola Sete.
Hart apprenticed with Washington, D.C. native sons like Jimmy Cobb, Osie Johnson, Ben Dixon, Harry “Stump” Saunders and George “Dude” Brown. Through local connections, he had backstage access to the Howard Theatre, where he analyzed such master New Orleanian drummers as Idris Muhammad (the Impressions), Clayton Filliard (James Brown), Ed Blackwell and Earl Palmer (Ray Charles). In 1967, he occupied the drum chair in the theater’s house band performing with The Isley Brothers, Sam and Dave, Patti Labelle, Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles among others.
He was also a sideman with Jimmy Smith (1964–1966), and Wes Montgomery (1966–1968). Following Montgomery’s death in 1968, Hart moved to New York, where he recorded with McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul, and played with Eddie Harris, Pharoah Sanders, and Marian McPartland.
In 1969, Hart joined Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking Mwandishi band and remained there for four years recording three trend-setting albums. From there he joined McCoy Tyner’s band (1973–1974) and also performed with Stan Getz (1974–1977), and Quest (1980s) in addition to extensive freelance playing and recording (including recording with Miles Davis on 1972’s On the Corner).
Howard classmate Marion Brown introduced Hart to Sunny Murray and Rashied Ali. Hart increasingly self-identified as an experimental musician, drawing on their example in a trio with Joe Chambers on piano and Walter Booker on bass. Later, during mid and late ’60s stopovers in Chicago with Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and Eddie Harris, he attended to the “textural, timbral approaches” of AACM drummers Thurman Barker, Steve McCall and Alvin Fielder. He applied those lessons during two years with Pharoah Sanders, a period when, via percussionist Mtume, he received the sobriquet “Jabali” (Swahili for “wisdom”). Hart’s mature tonal personality—advanced grooves drawing on “some knowledge of African and Indian music, and all the American traditions”—emerged during his years with Hancock’s Mwandishi band and subsequent tenure with McCoy Tyner.
Hart drew on all these experiences in conceptualizing Enchance, his debut album as a leader and subsequently, Oshumare (1985), Rah (1987), Amethyst (1993) and Oceans of Time (1997). On each record, he assembled idiosyncratic virtuosos from different circles, each signifying a stream of cutting-edge jazz thought. Functioning more as a facilitator than a stylist, he meshed their distinctive personalities, generating fresh ideas through intense drum dialogue. Each date has a singular quality, as though Hart had conjured a unitary vision out of various strains of the zeitgeist.
Hart currently leads the Billy Hart Quartet featuring Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street. They have recorded three CDs, the most recent, One is the Other, is on ECM Records.
Born in Oakland, CA, as a music-hungry youngster, Craig Handy experimented on guitar, trombone, and piano before settling on his first true love, the saxophone. At the age of 11 while listening to the radio, Handy fell under the spell of the transcendent saxophone playing of jazz legend Dexter Gordon. Berkeley High School’s (CA) reputable Jazz Program soon beckoned, and Handy joined the ranks of graduating stellar saxophone talent including David Murray, Peter Apfelbaum, and Joshua Redman, to name a few. He attended North Texas State University and won the coveted Charlie Parker Scholarship which enabled his early college experience as a psychology major and frontrunner in the school’s exceptional One O’ Clock Jazz Ensemble.
His distinctive sound and authentic instrumental prowess were redoubtable traits immediately noticed by artists of stature, especially those committed to nurturing new talent on the bandstand and road. Handy moved to New York in 1986 and began several associations with formidable artists including master drummers Art Blakey and Roy Haynes, South African melodist Abdullah Ibrahim, and the Mingus Dynasty Band. During a Mingus Dynasty engagement, one audience member – none other than an impressed Bill Cosby – approached Handy and eventually invited him to be the featured soloist in his sitcom’s music theme for 1989-90’s “The Cosby Show”. This was followed by a contract to score, produce, and perform music slated for “The Cosby Mysteries” 1994-95 season.
Eager to begin leading his own bands, by his late 20s Handy was already considered a technical master and prodigious post-bop talent. He also relished musical range by performing with veteran vocalist bandleaders such as the iconic Betty Carter and later the irrepressible Dee Dee Bridgewater. He played with Haitian and Salsa bands during this time as well. In 1992 he decided to lead his first of two advanced hard bop recordings on Arabesque Records, Split Second Timing, which featured Handy on both tenor and alto saxophones; pianist Ed Simon; bassist Ray Drummond; drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.; and guest trombonist Robin Eubanks. Two years later he followed with Introducing Three For All + One, a highly praised trio recording with bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.
Handy was also a convincing and telegenic actor in Robert Altman’s 1994 film Kansas City, portraying saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. In 1995, he continued playing with the new critically acclaimed band “Chartbusters”, featuring alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and drummer Idris Muhammad (a harbinger of things to come this fall, if not the past five years) and recorded two releases on the NYC and Prestige labels. Handy toured with Herbie Hancock throughout 1996 to mid-1999, and he led two more recording projects on the Sirroco label – 1999’s Reflections in Change and 2000’s Flow. By this time he had amassed performing and recording credits with Cedar Walton, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, George Adams, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis.