In case you missed it, or it slipped your mind, or you were distracted by the birthday of another celebrated Jazz giant, Duke Ellington (born on April 29, 1899), yesterday was also the 90th birthday of Big Jay McNeely (April 29, 1927).
Still with us and still going strong, Big Jay McNeely represents the sole survivor of what has been called the Los Angeles Postwar Jump-Blues movement. And one of the greatest practitioners of the “honking sax”.
It could be said that much of what McNeely (and his colleagues) did was pave the way for Rock n’ Roll, by injecting the infectious Jump-Blues rhythm and frantic beat. And it can also be said that many of who made up the Jump-Blues movement were offshoots of Big-Band jazz, or recruited Jazz players into the fold. Roy Milton had former Basie alumni in his ranks. Another celebrated honker, Earl Bostic had such future luminaries John Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine in his ranks. And McNeely himself has often cited Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet as inspirations.
But McNeely is one of a kind and his style of playing has been imitated frequently over the years. Thankfully, we still have the original as reference point.
The L.A. music scene in the 1940s, most notably the war and postwar years, is a fascinating study of contrasts in music and hotbeds of ideas. With the vast racial-social-ethnic spread of people moving to L.A. to take advantage of War Factory work and work for the film studios, those people represented all sections of the country, it was something of a melting pot for music. In addition to Jump blues you also had Western Swing, Folk Music, Contemporary Classical and just about every sub-genre in between.
So this Harbinger of Things To Come by way of Jump-Blues was a pivotal element that spun everything around to Rock n’ Roll. And even though there are legions of people cited as the ones present at the birth to the form, you get the idea that there was something in the air at the time and it was coming from a lot of places. And the air blew quite cool and hot all at the same time. This session, actually an experimental stereo recording at Birdland in Seattle wasn’t available commercially until 1989 when McNeely, along with historian Jim Dawson, assembled the tracks which became this album and finally issued it. Stereo was in its infancy at the time, with labels just starting to issue albums in the new format. So this is historic on a number of levels.
Happy Birthday Big Jay McNeely: April 29, 1927.
Editors Note: It was learned earlier this morning (September 16, 2018) that Big Jay McNeely passed away. He is deeply and sorely missed and his contributions to the music world are inestimable. RIP: Big Jay McNeely.