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SF State awards first John Handy scholarship for jazz studies

Michael Spencer, an East Bay drummer who will begin classes at SF State in the fall, receives scholarship named for famed alum, jazz saxophonist


SAN FRANCISCO, June 23, 2008 -- Berkeley drummer Michael Spencer has been awarded the first John Handy Scholarship for Jazz Studies, named after Handy, an SF State alum and one of the most innovative saxophonists in post-World War II jazz.

The scholarship, started by Handy and his wife Del, helps students coming to SF State who plan to pursue a career in music. "We wanted to help people who are interested and dedicated to doing something worthwhile with music in their careers," Handy said.

The 38-year-old Spencer has become a fixture in the Bay Area jazz scene during his 20-year career, playing with such well-known musicians as Handy and others.

Born to a musician and teacher, Spencer has been around music and education since birth. He attended Berkeley High School and excelled on the drums, earning a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, but choosing instead to begin his music career. He toured internationally and across the U.S. playing jazz -- even playing with a rock band on a European tour.

After he stopped touring, Spencer worked in the Berkeley Unified School District for six years, teaching drumming and math enrichment programs at Malcolm X Elementary while continuing to play gigs in the Bay Area. Despite his experience, Spencer said he still has plenty to learn.

"I'm a seasoned musician, but I can learn a lot more," he said. "There's a lot of theory I have to tackle, and I'm not the greatest music reader, but I'm looking forward to becoming a well-rounded drummer."

He credited Professor of Jazz Studies Dee Spencer (no relation) with encouraging him to return to school. Michael Spencer also said the deaths of two close friends made the decision to come to SF State more clear for him.

"I realized life is short," Michael Spencer said. "I've worked with kids and look forward to joining the teaching profession at some point and giving back what I've received. Going to SF State gives me the best opportunity to do that."

Dee Spencer said Michael Spencer will be an asset on campus because of what his experience and talent will bring to the classroom.

"He's just extremely talented and able to perform in a variety of styles and settings," Dee Spencer said. "He has an innate ability to know the right accompaniment for any kind of situation. That's rare. He thinks very musically."

SF State’s College of Creative Arts offers among the most prestigious and diverse artistic higher education of any Northern California academic institution. An internationally acclaimed faculty teaches more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world in renowned programs in Art, Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, Cinema, Design and Industry, Music, Dance and Theatre Arts. Each semester, the college presents more than 150 performances, exhibits, screenings, broadcasts and special events featuring students, faculty and celebrated professional artists. For more information, visit: http://creativearts.sfsu.edu



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