Terry "Doc" Handy
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Terry "Doc" Handy

Orange Park, Florida, United States

Orange Park, Florida, United States
Band Jazz Latin


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"Jacksonville Drummer Feels The Rhythm of The Congas"

Terry 'Doc' Handy is taking his drum playing to new levels

Posted: March 16, 2010 - 12:00am

Tonyaa Weathersbee

Terry "Doc" Handy discovered the congas when he was 12.

Actually, it was more like he connected with them - because when he began playing the Cuban drums, he began activating the musical links woven in the DNA of his family, and in African and Latin culture.

"When I was going to Kirby-Smith [Junior High], I had a teacher named Mrs. Jones," said Handy, now 50. "The school had this choral production, and she asked, 'Who wants to do it [play congas]?' "

"My hand just happened to go up faster than the other three."

Afterward, Handy's interest in the congas caught the attention of an uncle in New York City, who said he liked how he played, and bought him a pair of the drums. Playing the congas also helped him forge a strong bond with his older brother, Theron, whose autism slowed him down socially, but sharpened him musically.

"My brother is my biggest inspiration," said Handy, who wears an autism awareness bracelet. "He passed away in 2003, but he was what you would call a savant. He was very gifted and could play Chopin on the piano.

"He was always playing something ... he slept with the piano ... he'd say: 'Can you put a beat to this?' - and we'd start playing something."

Handy said he also spent summers in Alabama, playing music with cousins who played bass and drums. But the connection that kept Handy on the path to becoming one of this area's emerging jazz musicians was the one he made during his 21 years in the Army.

It was through the Puerto Rican soldiers he served with, and the Africans and Panamanians he played with, that he learned how to play the congas properly, he said.

Now Handy, who has played in Germany, Korea and Panama, and at local venues such as the Ritz Theatre and, most recently, during the Jessica Green Foundation's autism fundraiser at Camp Milton, is working to take his music to the next level.

Last year Handy collaborated with John Lumpkin Jr., a 25-year-old local jazz and gospel drummer, to produce a CD titled "Clue Paradise." His first CD, titled "Kinfolks," was released in 2007 - and was included in the soundtrack of the movie "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins."

Handy, who works as a mail carrier during the day, said he hopes the trajectory he's on will continue so he can keep honoring his brother and fulfilling his own life through music.

Lumpkin, however, believes they may be poised for big things: "Clue Paradise" is being reviewed by David Baker - a renowned composer who serves as conductor and artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

"He's [Handy] one of the first conga musicians that I've met who likes to swing," said Lumpkin, also known as "Lil John." "Normally, most conga musicians like to stick with Afro-Latin music and salsa, but Doc likes to mix it up with swing and bebop."

Mixing conga with other genres is another way Handy uses music as a cultural connector.

Like many of his Raines High School classmates in the 1970s, Handy liked Parliament, Earth Wind and Fire, and much of the R&B music of that time. But he quickly saw that all of that music came from the jazz tradition.

"All of that [R&B music] was being thrown at us while we were growing up, but there was no definitive line in that to me," said Handy, who played congas with the school's stage band.

"I love that music, and I love the old-school jazz - [John] Coltrane, Miles [Davis], Thelonious [Monk] - the only thing is by me putting the conga in it, the person who would have smiled on it from here is Dizzy Gillespie, because he went to Cuba and he went down to those places and mixed bebop and jazz."

But, said Handy, who was in Army ROTC at Raines, his broader lessons came after he joined the military after high school.

"My growth started when I went overseas. That's when I learned how to play congas the right way," he said. "My first duty station was Berlin, Germany, and in Berlin, I was meeting different soldiers from Puerto Rico; they were saying: 'No, no, no, senor. You don't play it like that. You play it like this.'

"As soon as I got to Germany, it was full of activity, bands and entertainment. I was able to get into a band right away. That's how I really honed my skills."

The military, he said, was an ideal training ground in other ways. For one, it provided a stable, disciplined environment for him to perfect his playing. And, most of all, it exposed him to musicians from different cultures.

Handy quickly began to bond with them musically and otherwise.

"One of my most interesting experiences was when I played with the Africans - the Gambians - in Germany," he said. "It was just interesting to sit down and discover that we had a lot more in common than we didn't have in common."

Handy, married with no children, said he hopes to continue to pursue his conga dreams - and in doing so, inspire others to follow theirs.

"I grew up in Brentwood, and you hardly ever hear anything good about Brentwood," he said. "Maybe this will help change that."

tonyaa.weathersbee@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4251

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To obtain one of Handy's CDs or to contact him, call (904) 635-1361 or go to www.cdbaby.com/terrydochandy2.

- Florida Times Union/Tonyaa Weathersbee


Lp Kinfolks, Tracks sample on myspace page. Cd purchase and listened at Cd baby.com/terrydochandy. 4th track titled: Snow Hill Alabama featured in the movie Roscoe Jenkins Welcome Home.
Lp Clue Paradise, Cd purchase at Cdbaby.com/terrydochandy/2



Doc performs jazz with a latin swing. Doc Handy has performed throughout the States, Europe, korea and Panama. Through other affiations he has opened for Kool and the Gang, Macy Gray, Aaron Neville, Kirk Whalum, Brian Culberson, and El Gran Combo. Doc plays the Ritz in Jacksonville Florida once a month with the Lawrence Buckner Jazz Combo and is the founder of the Righteous Group, a rhythm and blues ensemble. Doc's first album, title Kinfolks pays homage to his ancestors. The music was written by Cliff Lee and featured in the blockbuster movie Roscoe Jenkins Welcome Home. Doc's second effort Clue Paradise is a "Tour de Force" written by John Lumpkin Jr, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, Mica Bethea. Clue allows Doc to stretch out. Doc has recorded with Band of Destiny, Leon Timbo Seymore, Matt Still, John Reshard, Kai Alece Lil John Lumkin, Clay Benjamin and Kenny Hamilton. Doc's influences are Bill Summers, Ralph McDonald, Giovanni Hidalgo, Anga , Alex Acuna and the Yellowjackets, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billy Strayhorn, Joe Sample, Joe Henderson, George Benson, Earl klugh, Bud Powell, Roberta Flack, Finia Allstars, El Gran Combo, Wilfredo Vargas, 440, Oscar De Leon, Reuben Blades, Celia Cruz, Willy Colon, Danilo Perez, Victor Boa, Jimmy Maxwell and Bob Marley