Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FEEL THE RHYTHM ... DO THE CONGAS; Terry 'Doc' Handy Is Taking His Drum Playing to New Levels

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FEEL THE RHYTHM ... DO THE CONGAS; Terry 'Doc' Handy Is Taking His Drum Playing to New Levels

Article excerpt


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. …

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